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September 13, 2005
Schools push way into land deal
Regional educators -- from kindergarten to community college -- say they are being forced to elbow their way to the land-planning table for Coyote Valley after feeling cut off from the process for months and as though their interests were not a concern.
Gavilan Community College District President Steve Kinsella says he made multiple attempts to persuade the city of San Jose to integrate Gavilan into discussions about Coyote Valley but was unsuccessful, finally leading him to go it alone. The college is now operating outside the city's land-planning process, negotiating to buy 80 acres for a new 10,000-student campus in the heart of the proposed new mega neighborhood. The site is owned in part by Sobrato Development Cos. of Cupertino.
The college is not subject to city zoning requirements and has the power of eminent domain, so Mr. Kinsella has the capacity to pursue his own course, though he says he is trying to keep the city's perspectives in mind.
"The problem is they never planned on us from the beginning," Mr. Kinsella says.
But, "they're talking about adding thousands of people to the Gavilan service area," he says, "and we have to have a site there."
A chief aide to Mayor Ron Gonzales denies that the city has acted insensitively. The city was not aware that Gavilan was interested in locating in Coyote Valley until long after the regional land-planning effort began, says Joe Guerra.
"No one to my knowledge had any idea about Gavilan's plans before they approached us a year or so ago," Mr. Guerra says. "We immediately had a great meeting with them and told them to tell us what they were looking for."
The college deal, if consummated, complicates already difficult land-planning efforts in Coyote Valley. Even without the campus, Coyote had an extraordinarily tight development profile, with city officials attempting to squeeze 50,000 jobs and 24,000 homes onto five square miles. That space also must house all public infrastructure, including elaborate and land-intensive water detention systems to deal with regional flooding.
To accommodate the new campus and still maintain the 50,000-job promise, Coyote Valley land planners have had to re-jigger proposed development to create sites for more commercial space adequate for nearly 6,000 jobs, for instance.
"It's a tremendous puzzle to get it all to fit in, and if you lose land for schools or parks, that means you have to intensify what's left, which means that we have to start stacking people higher and denser and the fewer single-family detached homes that can be built," says Roger Shanks, a senior planner for the Dahlin Group, the consultant to the city of San Jose for Coyote Valley's land-planning.
About a quarter of the homes in Coyote now are expected to be detached, he says, but even those will be high-density with little or no yard.
Even the schools are feeling the pinch.
At 80 acres, the new Gavilan campus would be 20 acres smaller than the state prefers for community college campuses, a situation Mr. Kinsella says will invite a lot of questions from the state.
Meanwhile, the city has begun intense negotiations with the Morgan Hill School District to hammer out plans for the 12 or 13 new schools that Coyote Valley will need. Those talks also come after what Morgan Hill Deputy Superintendent Bonnie Tognazzini describes as a rocky start.
"Initially I was very concerned. I felt like we were chasing a train," she says. "They don't want to give up any land at all because they want it for development, and that's been part of the trouble."
With roughly 9,000 school-aged children expected out of Coyote and only 8,500 kids attending Morgan Hill Unified schools now, the new development has the potential to overwhelm the existing district. "That doubling makes it even more critical to get it right," she says.
The city also wanted a strong say in how schools in the district are configured, preferring fewer, larger campuses to the district's desire for more, smaller schools. The city also favored far lower projected student generation rates for the next 30 years compared to the school district's expectations.
But in the past several months, relations between the district and the city have improved, Ms. Tognazzini says. The two have managed to find common ground regarding elementary and junior high schools.
As with the community college, some proposed school-site sizes are below state preferences, though it's a hurdle that can be overcome.
"There is a (state) small-school site policy for urban settings, so you can get acreage pared down significantly, but if you have a small-school site, we would want to know how the district is going to deliver things like physical education," says Dave Hawke, a field representative with the school facilities planning division of the California Department of Education who earlier this summer spoke to Coyote Valley planners.
"Everyone needs to face that the bottom line is to get the kids educated," he adds.
Still, Ms. Tognazzini says lots of negotiating remains to be done on other issues.
Unsettled between the city and the school district is the question of high schools in the region -- whether there will be one or two -- and how large the high school or schools will be. A recent memorandum to the Coyote Valley Task Force from city of San Jose staff says that school campuses are being designed to allow for shared community use of their playing fields when kids are not in class. But Ms. Tognazzini says that statement should not be read to mean that the school district has agreed to such a plan.
One issue is whether the San Jose parks department would acquire additional land adjacent to the schools, as it has near others in the Morgan Hill district, or would rely entirely on the district property to execute its programs. The second scenario has the potential to create problems, she says.
"The district does not want to become the de-facto parks department. I'm afraid that if the only parks land is simply the schools' area, it will be very difficult for the parks department to operate without needing almost our entire facility and that can become a battle for space," she says.
Beyond that, she says, is the even thornier issue of financing construction of the schools. Developers typically pay only a third of the costs, leaving the district to find other ways to pay for the rest. There is no estimate yet of the new schools' price tag, she says.Posted by Coalition Webbies at September 13, 2005 06:36 AM