Monday, October 20, 2008

Point Fermin Elementary School Power/View/Safety Matter
By Russell Jeans

Since my contribution to Diana’s blog, some additional facts have come to light and some new "spin" is going on. I hope you read through this and click on any links referenced if you need verification.

The view challenges have been popular as to the significance of the view issue. An early email received by the school district was sent by James, my neighbor, on March 17, 2006. Quoting, in part:"I am contacting you … to find a solution to a problem we are experiencing in our neighborhood regarding the placement of several new power poles that are adversely affecting our view and, in addition are a threat to the schools children' safety..." "Because of LAUSD's generated need for all of this electrical power, four new 50 foot high power poles have been erected carrying high voltage overhead lines and thus devaluating (sic) many of the homeowner's (sic) property at a real estate market value of about $200,000 each." (He makes no mention of who made that evaluation and on what it was based.)James lives a block away and claims he has no harbor view, as it is obstructed by a building in front of him. That has been repeated elsewhere and is a salient point on another blog.

Quoting the blog: “Mr. Campeau stated factually that out of the front of his home he has a good clear view of the stucco walls of a condominium building and cannot even see the school unless he stands on his roof.”

The blog continues: "Now here are some true facts (Me - true facts?? Are there any other kind? Just a little humor):Mr. Campeau's view is of the stucco wall of a condominium building and he has no real view of the school site.."

Actually, standing anywhere on the south half of the school yard and also standing on Kerckhoff Ave., you can look towards James’ house and see directly into all the east facing windows of the house. Therefore, not only does he have a view of the school yard, he also can see more of the harbor than some of his neighbors. So much for true facts.

Pressure Politics

When you can’t win on the merits, create a web.
The March 17, 2006 email concludes, "If LAUSD is not willing to be a good neighbor and do the right thing, very in-depth investigations will be made...that might include the media and/or costly litigation taking this matter to another level which all of us probably do not want to see." (That sentence was blatantly inflammatory. At that point, his complaint was baseless.)

The Daily Breeze article ( included this: "If LAUSD doesn't remove the wires, Campeau said he may appeal to the district's Office of the Inspector General, or even to Jerry Brown, the state attorney general."

So far, he has gone to the city’s DWP, Street Services and Engineering in Public Works, the LAUSD, the councilwoman’s office, the newspaper, the local neighborhood council, NOISE, the city’s mayor’s office, the school PTO and says he wants to be on the school’s School Site Council.

The “very in-depth investigations”Well, the "very in-depth investigations" found a property right issue regarding right-of-way. (I would be interested to know who actually did these "very in-depth investigations", who suggested such a strategy and why. Are these just vain questions or are real answers going to be told?)

I am not in any way implying here that determining property rights is wrong. I am saying that he was trying to look at property rights of others - in this case public agencies – hopefully to find something that might be twisted to his personal advantage.

The occupation of the right-of-way

The existence of the right-of-way is indisputable. The city owns it and the school district is using it. The LAUSD notified the city that a permit was issued in 1931 for use of the right-of-way. The City cannot find the original permit; although there is no dispute that the permit was issued. (I wish the “very in-depth investigations” would include the search for the permit.)

The right-of-way was fenced about 1961 for the security of the school children. The lunch awning was installed about 2000 on the right-of-way to allow maximum use of the playground area. There are no known disputes on any of that until James had a view issue.

On June 25, 1999, DWP approved the current location of the transformer that was to be installed for Fire Life Safety upgrades, technology upgrades and air-conditioning upgrades. According to the LAUSD letter to the City, the transformer location was selected by the DWP.

The power apparently will not be connected to the school until the current complaint is resolved; as the equipment location and line configuration are directly tied to resolving the complaint.

The new fire alarm system is supplied from the lower, current power. In the long term, the system could be compromised if the higher voltage is not connected. (That from a LAUSD technician very familiar with the fire system.) Obviously, the point being the higher voltage is required for the school even without the air-conditioning.

Meanwhile, the City issued a Notice to Abate Nuisance or Correct Violation order on July 6, 2006. The notice states: “You are hereby notified to comply with the requirements of the LAMC by obtaining a revocable permit from the Dept. of Engineering…” (Claims have been made that the LAUSD is trying to force the city to issue a permit.)

On August 24, 2007, the LAUSD in a letter to the City listed the improvements on the right-of-way and stated the specific reasons for doing so (e.g., security, maximum use of playground, necessary upgrades and noise reduction). The letter also notified the city the LAUSD was requesting the issuance of the permit.

On March 25, 2008, the Coastal Neighborhood Council sent its list of motions to Janice Hahn’s office for that month. (See minutes where motion passed unanimously )

Motion #12 begins, “At Point Fermin Elementary School, The Board of Public Works Bureau of Street Services Investigation and Enforcement Division has determined that Los Angeles Unified School District has built and installed into public right of way on Carolina Street a school lunch shelter area, chain link fencing, a new high voltage power substation, and air conditioning condenser units without a permit…

“…WE…ADVISE that the Board of Public Works deny any permit request by Los Angeles Unified School District concerning right of way encroachments at Point Fermin Elementary School, and that The Board of Public Works directs LAUSD to immediately remove any structures (bold added by me) from the public right of way.

The City of Los Angeles, Bureau of Engineering and Bureau of Street Services issued a joint report with the follow recommendation:

“Authorize the City Engineer to issue a Revocable Permit to the Los Angeles Unified School District to allow an existing lunch shelter, air conditioning condenser units, a ground transformer and chain link enclosure to remain in the public right-of-way along a portion of Carolina Street in San Pedro until such time that funds are available to widen Carolina Street.”

(BTW, widening Carolina Street will never happen because to do so would result in removing all of the improvements encroaching on the right-of-way by all the property owners up and down the street.)

Quoting more from the report regarding safety:

“Based on…information from the DWP, there is no engineering or safety-related basis to deny the LAUSD’s request for a Revocable Permit.”

“It is the Bureau of Engineering’s recommendation that the Board approve this request for a Revocable Permit to allow the existing perimeter fencing, transformers, condensers and lunch shelter to remain in the public right-of-way…”

There it is. The violations? Improvements encroaching on right-of-way that was assumed by both agencies to be school district property. Not one safety code violation. Not one building code violation, other than building on the right-of-way – and that without objection from anyone until now. Not anything other that a matter of property rights – and the rightful property owner’s (the city) technical advising bureaus can find no reasonable objection to issuing a permit. In fact, they fully recommend the issuance with the current configuration.

Well, after all of these years of being neighbors to the school and not once pushing for any safety improvements to the school, a view issue motivates a concern for safety. The concern? A sidewalk. They want a continuous sidewalk on the east side of the street. That means replacing the walk way off of the street (within the existing right-of-way) that gives safe access to the back of the school. They think the construction of the continuous sidewalk on the right-of-way is safer and of greater value than the current right-of-way improvements they want removed.

I used that walk way for several years as I took my son to school. When I was doing that, I always felt we were safer being off of the street than if a continuous sidewalk existed there. (That was my thinking long before all of this mess.) Moreover, as noted above, the preferred route (and safest, with or without a continuous sidewalk) is from Carolina, down 34th and to the main entrance on Kerckhoff. The sidewalk is uninterrupted and 34th is a dead end street.

The actions of the school district and the city have created safer conditions than the recommendations and concerns for sidewalk safety of a few neighbors and the local neighborhood council.

Again, I have used that part of the street as a parent taking my son to school and always felt safer doing so than if a continuous sidewalk replaced it. I still use it personally sometimes when I walk down to the school today and feel really good while doing it.

What’s really going on?

The neighbor’s single issue is his view. Some will object to my saying that. But, not a peep came from him to the school about school safety in the four years I was on the school site council. We always include the opportunity for public comment on the agenda. There has never been a continuous sidewalk on the east side of Carolina St.

Yep. He made safety complaints to the school district officials at the time he complained about his view obstructions. The safety complaints were power pole and line related. They were there to put pressure on the district to act on his view issue. There were no violations noted. There were suggestions to spend more money to redo the installation – suggestions that would conveniently solve his view concerns.

There was no concern, no mention, no issue regarding the continuous sidewalk until the right-of-way issue was discovered.

There were wires on utility poles adjacent to the lunch awning from the time the awning was erected. The voltage carried on those wires could kill a person in a heartbeat, just as sure as the higher voltage. There was no objection when the awning was installed.

He also has no objection if the poles’ heights are restored to that of the original poles. For him, there is no safety remedy that doesn’t include eliminating the higher utility poles from his view.

Some of his supporters have their own agenda. Their aversion to the school district is so strong that irrational and nonsensical positions are taken and statements are made so that knowledge and facts become their enemies.

The neighborhood council should have known better. Their mean-spirited motion would do nothing for the betterment of the education of the neighborhood children (and their parents) the advisory council represents.

The councilwoman’s divisiveness and partisanship have kept the matter going on as long as it has. When all the facts were made known to the city’s and the school district’s appropriate personnel, they acted reasonably and responsibly. She should have backed them. She should have, herself, gone down to the public counter and requested a permit that would have been immediately issued. Instead, she opted to protect the view issue of one individual.

At one time, James had an attorney involved. That apparently is no longer true. I suspect he was advised there is no legal issue for him and continuing to pay an attorney would be throwing money away.

This is about preferential treatment. The replacement power poles are no different than most of the other poles in the neighborhood. You can see a photo here of a utility pole really obstructing a view a block from the school. The property owner asked the city if it were possible if the city could move the pole. They told him they could do that, but he would have to pay for it. He asked how much and they said $25,000. He didn’t pay.

James wants the poles moved, cut or removed. He doesn’t want to pay. He wants you to pay by using public funds. He is my neighbor, a very good neighbor and very nice. But, on this matter, he is also very wrong.