Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Father Steps Up to Protect His Son's Former School, Point Fermin Elementary, and Wants the Public to Understand What Has Happened; In the Meantime, Students Keep Suffering from the Heat Over Another Adult Dispute

Dear Readers: This posting is from a knowledgeable father who sat on the Site Council for Point Fermin Elementary School for two terms and spent the second term as a chairperson. He's lived in San Pedro all his life and works as a lead operator for the Joint Water Pollution Control Plant. His son now attends Dana Middle School, but when he heard this issue arise about the troubles at his son's former elmentary school, he wanted to set the record straight with the public. Diana

By Russell Jeans

In 2005, construction began on an air conditioning system at Point Fermin Elementary School with funding provided from the Proposition BB Bond, approved by the voters in 1997. The power demand, as a result, for the school would increase. New 4800 volts cables had to be brought in to the school by replacing existing utility poles with higher poles to meet the safety regulations for the higher voltage. The new utility poles were installed in December, 2005.

A neighbor, who lives almost a block away from the school, filed a complaint that his harbor view was now being obstructed by the higher poles. The school received a copy of his email noting his concern for his view in March, 2006. Up until a few days ago, the neighbor made no direct contact with the school.

Interestingly, there are other utility poles in the four directions from his property in the neighborhood that are as high, or higher, than those new poles - and they all obstruct somebody's view of the harbor. The school district followed all relevant laws and codes for the installation with inspections from building and safety to guarantee compliance, as is standard and proper practice in any construction. Bringing the power up to the school was performed by the DWP. Consequently, as a result of the complaint, connecting the new air conditioning system was stopped.

The school district prudently didn't want to spend additional funds needlessly if the outcome of the complaint was going to require additional changes. For nearly three years, the air conditioning system has remained inoperative while this neighbor, with support from others, continues his quest. The neighbor took his complaint to Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

With intervention by the councilwoman in support of the neighbor, the DWP reduced the height of the new utility poles by literally cutting 5 feet off to the bare minimum height to help placate the neighbor and his supporters. They didn't object to doing that, other than to say it wasn't low enough. They prefer the power be routed underground, the most expensive option. Again, in trying to placate the neighbor, the DWP offered to modify the power line installation with free labor.

However, the school district's portion of these changes would require spending an estimated $200,000. The school district's portion of the project would be done by outside labor through open bid, like what was done in the original installation. The school district has refused to spend the money for several reasons.

First, the city has no code restrictions regarding views. Second, the original installation meets all the safety and building code issues. Third, there is no discretionary money currently available for such a project. Lastly, it would be a "gift of public funds" to spend that money when there is no legal mandate forcing the changes.

Essentially, that means the school district would spend public money for the aesthetic issues of one, or a few, individual(s), while putting into question their fiduciary responsibilities due to dispersing public funds in such a cavalier manner.

Meanwhile, the neighbor attacked on several fronts. Although claiming to be new at this kind of thing, he strategically acted in a way only a politically savvy person would. An active member of the Coastal Neighborhood Council, he brought his issue to them and gained their support. A motion passed by their board had no input from anyone representing the school. He also went to NOISE (an ad hoc group politically opposed to the proposed Angel's Gate high school) and successfully requested their support. He looked through the records to see if there were any inconsistencies or irregularities that might derail the project in its current form. That strategy is not a guarantee. But in bureaucracies as big and old as the two government agencies involved, the likelihood of finding something is great.

He hit paid dirt. The power brought into the school goes to a transformer on the school site. The transformer, he found out, sits on city right-of-way that the school district has been using since a revocable permit was issued in 1931. No one can find a copy of the permit, according the city's engineering office. But, it is known that the permit was issued and that the school district initially used the city's right of way to plant vegetation. Thirty years later, the school district fenced in the school in 1961, including the city's property in the permit.

Both agencies simply assumed, while doing the current project, that the right-of-way was actually school district property. According to the councilwoman, the permit has expired - but nobody knows when. So, the neighbor finds his pot of gold.

Several improvements sit on the right-of-way. The biggest one is the lunch awning installed in 2000. It offers outdoor seating to the students to eat lunch and snacks rather than cramping them into the old cafeteria inside. The councilwoman says she doesn't want to see the lunch awning moved. However, the motion passed by the neighborhood council, while not only recommending denying any new permit, recommends removing all existing structures, specifically including the lunch awning, the fence, the transformer and associated air conditioning equipment that is on the city's right-of-way.

The council did not hear from any school district representative before passing the motion. An issue associated with the right of way is a sidewalk. On part of the east side of Carolina Street, where the right-of-way exists, there in no sidewalk. The neighbor and his friends think this is unsafe. They feel if the right of way is taken back by the city, the city can construct a proper sidewalk so children and adults can safely use that side of the street.

In the article in the Daily Breeze that appeared Sunday, October 5th, a photo was provided showing the area of concern. In the photo is a walk way well off of the street (safer than a sidewalk) to provide access to the school through a gate at the end of the walk way. That gate is open at the beginning and the end of the school day for a brief period for school employees' convenience. The children are to enter at the front of the school on Kerckhoff Avenue or an entrance on 32nd Street.

Access from Carolina Street, to avoid walking on the part of the street without a sidewalk, is by walking from where the sidewalk does exist on Carolina to the sidewalk on 34th Street (the south perimeter of the school) to get to the front of the school. For other pedestrian traffic, there is an uninterrupted sidewalk on the west side of Carolina. The city has said they have no plans to provide a sidewalk.

Besides, it would not be economically feasible. The Board of Public Works would issue the new permit. There is a staff report available to them that recommends issuance of a new permit. Their investigation verified there are no safety or engineering issues of a negative nature. They also confirm the sidewalk issue is a non-issue. There is no reason not to issue the permit; therefore, their recommendation.

Currently, it is projected the board will take up the issue of the permit at its next meeting on October 22nd. Make no mistake about this situation. With the permit, there is no issue forcing the school district to spend approximately $200,000 or more, to placate a neighbor and his friends so he doesn't "suffer" the same "burden" many of his other neighbors also experience.

He is not asking for all the utility poles in the area that obstruct harbor views be removed or modified, just those affecting him. Unfortunately, this same person, as I pointed out above, is actually very politically savvy - or is getting advise from someone who is. If he doesn't get his way with the view, quoting him in the Daily Breeze, he has threatened to take this to the school district's Office of Inspector General or California's attorney general, Jerry Brown. That kind of statement is made to apply pressure on the local political representative to act - in part, to avoid the additional political costs and burden of having other entities involved, to which the councilwoman (as well as the school district) would have to devote more time and energy.

The councilwoman has objected to using city funds to help subsidize the school district's financial burden. She points out, rightly, that the economy in the city is not that strong right now and the city budget is very tight. Of course, the school district that serves the same economy and the same population has the same problem, if not more severe than the city.

There is no compelling reason for either of these agencies to spend more money and time on this project. The Board of Public Works should issue the permit. The result would be both agencies involved here having acted responsibly.


Anonymous said...

This article is about following the Law - - LAUSD has not, they answer to no one.. its about time the law is followed...

I thank the neighbors that can call LAUSD out! Time to break up LAUSD - - Charters and privatizing of school are the way to go!

Vote NO on Measure Q this November 4th!

Anonymous said...

What is going to happen to the kids. One person's view is affected but what about 360 kids? What will they do?

Anonymous said...

This is a great article. It is time for the parents of San Pedro to take over the Neighborhood Councils. The Coastal Council didn't even have enough candidates to fill the seats so everybody who ran got elected. Why is it that the majority of the council is run by retired people? This is not the voice of San Pedro or this neighborhood.

Just4fin said...

"Why is it that the majority of the council is run by retired people? This is not the voice of San Pedro or this neighborhood."

Apparently this person isn't familiar with the make up of the Coastal San Pedro NC or he/she would not have made the above statement.

I certainly would advise and encourage those who want to participate to show up for meetings, join a committee and run for the board. Realize that you can't be a one-trick pony. Most people have an issue, come out in force and when it is resolved, fade into the woodwork again. There are many issues facing our community and more of the public needs to get involved in helping to solve them.

As far as the Point Fermin School issue, LAUSD did not follow the rules and admitted the same. It was only after the issue of the revocable permit was brought up did they bother to respond. Even now, they are not willing to do the right thing no matter how little or great the cost. DWP is however, LAUSD should too.

This was never about views. If you believe that, you can believe the political spin that is currently being put forward about the Democratic presidential candidate. It is about safety. Undergrounding the power is safer than the current pole configuration and swagging the power over the luncheon structure. Imagine if you will, a truck hitting the pole and the line falling on the structure (a truck has already hit a pole on Carolina before) or an earthquake toppling the pole with the same results. With the power underground, that would never happen. I, for one, would not want to gamble with children's lives for the sake of saving a few dollars.

As far as the claim that the engineers have said it is safe and meets current codes, need I remind you that the bridges on freeways and highways were considered safe and up to code before the last big earthquake. Look what happened.

In the end, the school can keep the lunch structure and only have to move one air conditioning condenser unit to accommodate the new sidewalk. Kids, teachers, staff and residents would not have to walk in the street which most would consider a much safer proposal than the existing situation.

I think the children's safety is a course that is worth pursuing and should receive the backing of every parent, as well as teachers and staff.

Anonymous said...


There is a need to correct the errors in Russell Jeans’ blog regarding Pt. Fermin Elementary School and bring clarification into the issue:

• The original stakeholders have not sent any letter to the school and are not aware of any such letter.

• The original stakeholders have had the PTO endorsement when this started back almost three years ago. They have the copies of those letters.

• In the past PTO presidents have come to the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council asking for money. The CSPNC has donated funds, equipment, and sponsorship to the Pt. Fermin Elementary School.

• As wrongly stated by you, the school district did not follow all relevant laws and codes for the installation with inspections from Building and Safety. F.Y.I., relevant laws include building on the property that belongs to you; the public right of way does not belong to LAUSD.

• Building and Safety does not inspect LAUSD facilities. These inspections are made by the office of the State Architect. One must wonder why they did not review a site plan to determine property lines.

• The new air conditioning has not been inoperative for three years. Its installation was completed just over a year ago.

• Two out of the four new power poles in closest proximity to the Edison poles on 32nd Street have a five foot reduced height as part of an Edison/DWP cooperation department agreement and has nothing to do with the Councilwoman’s intervention or neighbors’ views. There are several trees that border the school and that obscure views none of the neighbors have complained about.

• Adjunctive to this, in the early 1990’s several of these same neighbors tried unsuccessfully to save the largest stand of mature ash trees in the south bay that lined Kerckhoff Ave. Neighbors had petitions to save the trees and the children in each class wrote essays in support of saving those trees. The school kids were clinging to the fence, some crying, as the trees were being cut down.

• A “gift of public funds” should not be confused with money that was spent in a way that was not only unlawful, but also unwise to begin with, consistent with LAUSD’s fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of California. Many think LAUSD operates in a cavalier manner answerable to no one with any real oversight.

• Many in the private sector have to be responsible for their wrong assumptions.

• The school district representative had not attended any of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council meetings and really does not seem to care what happens in the community. Other city government agencies regularly attend CSPNC meetings. The only time someone from the school PTO shows up is to ask for money.

• Mr. Jeans mentions the fact there is no sidewalk. Good point. The Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council planning committee made inquiry to the Safe Route to Schools Program for pedestrian safety concerning this area and has initiated more help from the mayor’s office.

• LAUSD agrees with the terms of any new revocable permit which includes the removal of all the structures in the public right of way when there is funding for street widening. So this will happen eventually anyway, why not negotiate a better deal for all concerning this safety hazard now. It is irresponsible to defer this along stating there is no safety concern by either Bureau of Engineering or LAUSD’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety.

Attacking the messenger is the most recent campaign by overpaid LAUSD Facilities Directors by asking the principal to launch a misinformation campaign. This last ditch smear campaign is claiming to save our children from suffering from the heat is going too far. Diana Chapman’s recent article in Dr. Vladovic’s blog about the Pt. Fermin outdoor education center describes the Pt. Fermin area as overlooking the Pacific despite crisp, burly ocean breezes, misting fogs clinging to the bluffs and a damp chill in the SUMMER air.

Let’s be real, how many of us had air conditioning in our schools? Were we less deserving of air conditioning than today’s children? Many of us attended schools that are thirty degrees hotter in the day than Pt. Fermin Elementary School which is not open during summer anyway.

I am an advocate of oversight and there is no oversight on how LAUSD is spending OUR money. The Bond Oversight Committee has a vision and charter statement that speak of schools that enhance our neighborhoods through their design and programming to be centers of community, reflecting the wise and efficient use of resources. Schools belong to the community and LAUSD should be the good neighbor they often claim to be. We all pay for them whether we have children or not, we all should be able to use the facilities when school is not in session.

Shared Use Facilities help alleviate the underfunded burden of Recreation and Parks Department. LAUSD Facilities Division has all the money for construction none of which is being channeled to the education part. Our kids are falling behind on a global scale not because of air conditioning, school lunch shelter areas, or safety risks!

As a general contractor it is my job to ask a lot of questions, to find the most practical, economical and safety minded approach to any project. I could not afford such blunders as LAUSD is exhibiting, in the private sector we all are held accountable each time we screw up.

Shooting the messenger is the LAUSD facilities directors answer to the problem. If the well paid six figure LAUSD facilities directors would spend as much time working out very practical solutions to safety risks and less time using the old mud slinging, the NIMBY 101 diversion tactic to cover their mistakes, we would have had this worked out a long time ago.

The LAUSD Facilities Director has blamed everyone for the situation they are in now, they wrongfully singled out the messenger in a field of stakeholders, they are also blaming the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council, the Bureau of Engineering, the Councilwoman, the Mayor’s Office, and the Department of Water and Power. LAUSD seems to be mesmerized by their Eminent Domain power and thinks it can claim any public right of way. But LAUSD is in violation of the law and they should be held to higher standards. What example are they setting by building structures in the public right of way without a permit? They assumed it was their land. They assumed wrong.

Over the years neighbors have seen the school lunch shelter area as the pick up and drop area for many children, they see school kids walking in the street and crossing the street without a crosswalk or crosswalk monitor. There have been car accidents in this area including a light post that was knocked down right across the street from the lunch shelter area with its new High Voltage switchgear housing, and air conditioning condensers.

The $200,000 figure is interesting. LAUSD is just throwing out all these numbers and is waiting if anyone of them is sticking. Their Facilities Director says in the recent newspaper article that last fall the school spent 2.3 million Dollars at Pt. Fermin School for electrical, air conditioning and technology upgrades. Citizens were told all the kids were getting computers! The sign posted on Kerckhoff Avenue said the Safety & Technology project budget was $421,000. In a letter Mr. Gamble stated the same project was $875,000, that it would cost an additional $400,000 just to go underground for power including DWP’s cost and paving. Do the math and there’s another number $875,000 + $400,000 and we have a new number of $1,275,000. DWP stated that LAUSD’S cost would be $30,000. For over 2 years Mr. Gamble has ignored a ligitimate estimate for a cost of $97,640 from a contractor who has done many similar LAUSD projects.

Bottom line is that LAUSD is not will to pay to do it right. It would have cost the same amount or less if it was done correctly the first time.

Another not very bright blogger responded to the recent newspaper article as saying there hasn’t been any school kid “road kill” yet. Does he think it’s funny to use the term “road kill?” I find it rather disgusting. Does it take someone to get killed first in order to do something about it? A child on 25th Street got killed first before a signal was installed on Leyland and 25th. A new stop sign was erected on 39th and Pacific after a mother of two was killed crossing the street. Is this what the blogger is waiting for?

Here is a simple risk assessment scenario to consider:
One child walks to school on Carolina Street with no sidewalk, and eats lunch five days a week for four school years at the School Lunch shelter area that has High Voltage power lines running over it. The other child does neither of those two things. Which child is more at risk? The child that does neither of those two things.
People that say the High Voltage power lines and the School Lunch Shelter area are “Safe” cannot know the future. Accidents do happen and we must do everything to prevent them. What if there is a truck, or truck with trailer, or a car that loose their brakes coming down the hill on Carolina Street. What if they then hit the High Voltage power pole, switch gear, or lunch shelter area where kids are located? Why subject the kids to unnecessary risk when there are plenty of alternatives?

Ginger Dearborn said...

As a parent, one time student, and area resident I am deeply sadden by the proposed destruction of part of our school.

If there is so much concern for our school and the students, then why aren't the same people with safety concerns attending our school site council meets. Like the Coastal Committee, they should also be attending these meetings too. Instead of all the politics, why isn't this about the children. Point Fermin is already a small schools and to even think of any portion of the school grounds, lunch areas or otherwise being removed would be completely unfair to the current student body.

Back door, front door! Dress it up anyway you want, this is about the view, and only the VIEW! Because the gentle men lost in that arena, he found something else to use in justifying his cause, which is removing the power pole from his VIEW!

The parents, principal, and teachers have only been asked to attend the city meetings with LAUSD in the last couple of weeks. As parents, if we had been made aware of the issues sooner, we certainly would have come forward to express our concerns.

I am one of the few parents that utilized Carolina Street as a drop of, and never once did I feel that it was unsafe to do so. Since the new school year began, we have not been able to utilize the Carolina Street lower gate as a drop off point. So I am not sure why there would be a current issue of safety. I took the time to drive down and view the power pole in question, and it does not hang over the lunch pavillion. In addition, I think that if there was a safety issue with placing a power pole in that particular location, the DWP power would know it. The are the ones that put it in that location. I am certain that they have certain safety guidelines that have to be met. Also, there is a tree the towers over the same power pole that has been there since I went to school at Point Fermin in 1969.

I have a vested interest in Point Fermin, and the safety of all of the children. If I felt that there were truly a safety issue with the power pole, I would be the first person to speak up. If you look around the school, there are several other power poles. For that matter, if you drive down any given street in San Pedro we are surrounded with the same power poles. Are we all in danger!

If there is so much concerns about bridges, freeways, and other thoroughfares that are also surrounded by power poles, and that were constructed by DWP and City Engineers, we all use them, and all of us are at risk on any given day. There are no guarantees! We don't have control of Earthquakes and traffic accidents, etc. If there is such a concern of this power pole being on city property, then why hasn't the city been taking care of the property for the last one hundred years. The homestead act makes that LAUSD property at some point. What about eminent domain! If they take away the property that is proposed, then does the district have the right to enforce eminent domain on the other properties that are between Carolina and Kerchkoff, to aquire additional space to make the playground bigger?

The purpose of the power pole is to provide not only power to the much needed air conditioning units in the classrooms, but provide additional outlets to the classrooms. Each classroom only has two outlets which does not provide adequate power for computers, and additional equipment needed in the school. For example, if we had ample power to the classrooms, we could potential implement the "Reading Counts" program which requires computers in the classroom. Being that we are now a Marine Science Magnet school, this equipment is essential to the school's curriculum, and to the students.

My family has roots going back to the late 1800's in Point Fermin specifically. Our family have been home owners on Carolina Street since the early 1900's. We have a vested interest in improving the schools, and surrounding neighborhood whenever possible. We do not want our school, and the children's playground/lunch area disrupted. That's what it would take to put power underground. Not to mention the cost that would be involved. All of this is unnecessary. None of the proposed changes by the Coastal Committee, or the Anonymous writers need to happen.

Our principal, teachers, and parents have worked hard to make Point Fermin a great school. We are now a Magnet school, our scores are up over 800. We won an award in academic achievement last year. These are the important issues for our school.

All of these improvements to the school including the additional power to the school will only enhance increase the property values in our neighborhoods.

Aren't these things that are most important! They are to me, my family, and our school.

Russell Jeans said...

I did err on a date. The air conditioning wasn't ready for use until June, 2007. So, it could have been used in the fall of 2007 and 2008. Two years instead of three. Joe Biden and I have trouble counting.

Russ Jeans