On May 6, College Preparatory High School—a private high school located in Oakland on Broadway between Brookside and Golden Gate Avenues—presented its three-year expansion plans to neighbors and a couple of Rockridge Community Planning Council (RCPC) members. Unfortunately, the invitations arrived two days before the meeting, and many neighbors whose lives would be directly impacted by the development were unable to attend. Of those who did attend, many were seriously troubled by what they heard.
The wildly ambitious plans involve adding 25,000 sq. ft. of new buildings and increasing the high school’s student enrollment. The plans also call for removal of old-growth trees, which are protected by City ordinance and the original permit. By way of several neighborhood meetings, neighbors have defined their major areas of concern:
Parking, Traffic. Though the school has technically enough “permitted” campus parking for all its students and faculty, Brookside, Golden Gate and Eustice Avenue are packed with student’s and teacher’s cars during the week. This not only creates a parking problem for residents and visitors, but is hazardous because emergency vehicles need these passageways to reach homes further up the hill. Traffic is so congested in the morning that some neighbors have difficulty getting out of their driveways to get to work.
Size and rental of 10,000 sq. ft. Performing Arts building. Considering the size of the school grounds and the tight neighborhood setting, this huge building would be an eyesore, and, when rented out, the night time and weekend congestion and noise could be formidable.
Future unregulated growth. The school plans to add 20/40 students forthwith, but there is no guarantee to the neighborhood that enrollment will not continue to increase. The City of Oakland doesn’t have the staff to monitor adherence to permits. For instance, another private high school in Oakland now enrolls over 50 percent more students than its legal permit allows. Given the present parking, traffic and noise problems, the impact of any increase in population is seen by most neighbors as extremely problematic.
Removal of Old-Growth Trees. The trees, far more than the administration, have been the bridge between this exclusive private school and its neighbors. These trees have blocked the sight of school buildings, muted some of the noise of rallies, dances and assemblies and have kept the air much cleaner for everybody than it would have been without them.
On May 7, the Rockridge Community Planning Council, voted to not-oppose the school’s development application. However, the City’s deadline for comments has been extended to June 30, and the RCPC has agreed to meet with a few members of the community on May 28 to learn more about the issues and, hopefully, at that time RCPC will come into compliance with its own conflict-of-interest matters on this issue by asking its members with ties to the school—trustees, former parents, current parents, etc.—to recuse themselves from voting on this issue.
In an effort to become a part of the process that will impact their lives, neighbors will also be meeting with City of Oakland reps to present their suggestions. “We want all the players to remember that we are the taxpayers, not the school,” said one neighbor. “However, our goal is to become partners, not victims in this venture.”
The school seems to be listening. In response to a letter from another neighbor, College Prep High School Principal Murray Cohen responded, “I understand your point about not paying enough attention to establishing and maintaining good relationships with our neighbors. Now that we are alert to that failure we will, with your understanding and help, repair that damage.”
Hopefully, this new good-neighbor policy will lead to a workable compromise. Neighbors are holding their collective breath.
Laura Santina is an Oakland resident.