23 Aug 2014
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Opinion: Hillbrook School Should Not Be Allowed to Expand

Already congested area is threatened with new traffic if school is allowed to increase enrollment by 99 additional students.

Opinion: Hillbrook School Should Not Be Allowed to Expand Opinion: Hillbrook School Should Not Be Allowed to Expand

Can the neighborhood around absorb an at least 32 percent increase in traffic? The answer is no—yet this would be the result if it has its way and is allowed to increase enrollment.

Hillbrook School, which for almost 30 years has committed itself to remaining a small country day school, has decided it needs to grow. It will be asking the Los Gatos Planning Commission to allow an enrollment increase of 99 students, from 315 to 414. Hillbrook will make this request despite the fact that, for years, neighbors have asked the school to try to decrease the large amount of traffic it generates.

In making its request, Hillbrook takes no notice of the already dangerous traffic situation in the area. Traffic in the neighborhood, which includes upper and lower Marchmont, Englewood, Hilow, Topping, Stonybrook, Kennedy, Shannon, Loma, and Ferris, is already dangerously heavy. And traffic becomes downright scary when everyone is headed to and from school—Hillbrook children going to and from Hillbrook and neighborhood children walking, biking, and scootering to Blossom Hill Elementary, Van Meter Elementary, and Fisher Middle School. The problem is made even worse by the fact that neighborhood streets have no sidewalks and no bike lanes. Some streets even have blind curves.

Hillbrook is tucked deep inside a completely residential community. There is only one access road in and out. Hillbrook parents have to wind through the completely residential neighborhood to reach the school because there is no access from the main streets of Kennedy and Shannon.

We in the neighborhood cannot understand why our town representatives would seriously consider Hillbrook’s request. An enrollment increase would have no benefit to Los Gatos. Hillbrook is a nonprofit, and thus pays no taxes. Most of Hillbrook’s students come from out of town. There is no upside for Los Gatos residents. All we would get from an enrollment increase would be traffic, noise, pollution, and dangerous conditions for our children.

This traffic issue is not new. The Commission and then the Town Council discussed the issue in 2000-2001. Even then, the traffic questions were not resolved to the satisfaction of neighborhood residents. Residents asked that the town limit Hillbrook’s peak hour traffic to 100 vehicles. The cap was set at 165.

In 2000-2001, Hillbrook was asking permission to upgrade and expand its facilities. Residents were highly concerned that the expansion would lead to an enrollment increase and, thus, more traffic. At that time, then Head of School Sarah Bayne in a memo to the Commission wrote: “There has been continued suggestion that the school’s master plan indicates its interest in increasing its population and overall size of the school.” The next sentence was boldfaced and underlined in the memo. “At no point has Hillbrook ever requested a change in its conditional use permit, which limits the school’s population to 315.” At Commission and Council meetings, Bayne repeated over and over that Hillbrook would not increase its enrollment.

The Town approved a new conditional use permit in 2000. Permission for new construction was contingent on no enrollment increase. Any request for an enrollment increase now can only be construed as a breach of faith on Hillbrook’s part.

Here are some additional issues:

  • Hillbrook has frequently violated the current conditional use permit. For example, during the summer of 2011, Hillbrook allowed a private camp to use its facilities. The head of school said that at least 900 children were enrolled in summer programs. Under the CUP, Hillbrook cannot rent or lease its facilities, nor should it have more than 315 children on site. Given this and other violations, neighbors doubt that they can trust Hillbrook to adhere to a new CUP.
  • Hillbrook’s summer violations would have continued if the neighborhood had not acted as a watch dog and caught the school in the act of disregarding the existing CUP. This is not a role the neighborhood should be required to play.
  • Hillbrook is proposing most of its growth for its middle school. An increase at the middle school level will bring not only an increase in the number of cars dropping off and picking up children. It will also create more traffic with after-school and evening events.
  • Hillbrook claims it needs to expand so it can offer more sports programs and other activities. But there are innumerable opportunities for Hillbrook students to play almost any sport you can imagine. Hillbrook students have done this for decades, and thrived.
  • Hillbrook continually indicates that it encourages carpooling, and we can see some carpooling. However, this has not solved the problem in the past. There is no reason to expect it will solve the problem in the future.

Hillbrook’s planned expansion goes against the letter and spirit of the Los Gatos 2020 General Plan. The Plan states that “planning for neighborhood preservation and protection is one of the most important purposes of the Town’s General Plan.” It also promises to:

  • Prohibit uses that …  adversely impact the public safety … of a residential neighborhood. 
  • Minimize opportunities for regionally-generated traffic to cut through Los Gatos.
  • Make land use decisions that encourage walking, bicycling, and public transit use.
  • We hope that the Commission and Council will adhere to their own guiding principles and deny Hillbrook’s request to increase its enrollment.

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