The issue of Measure E interim student housing has become a bit of a hot topic around town. Various ideas for the location of temporary portables are being floated, including Witter Baseball field, Hampton Field, Coaches Field/Blair Park, Havens plus tennis courts (possibly throw in 801 Magnolia), and Beach Field. Each of these locations has a positive and negative side.
Measure E was positioned to retrofit our schools, not to build new ones. The Becker plan found a way to rebuild Havens using those funds and I think that’s a good thing. It is visionary to take what could have been functional, but uninspiring and figure out how to do something great for the community. However, the direct benefit, and therefore the bulk of the hardship, should be borne fairly and equitably.
So where should the portables be? What is fair and equitable?
Let’s look at Witter Baseball field. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I’m very pro-baseball and as a PBF board member, I know that losing Witter Baseball for 3-4 years will have a huge impact on the older players, but also ripple through community baseball and soccer programs of other age groups. However, when I take off my baseball hat and consider the issue as a Piedmont resident with school aged children, it seems to be not such a bad idea. It’s central, has plenty of room for portables, and keeps students (except Beach) generally close to their original schools. Witter baseball field adjoins Wildwood, PHS, and PMS and is about 4 blocks from Havens. (see this map to get an idea of the relative location of Havens, Wildwood, PMS, and PHS to the Baseball Field.) The main baseball diamond could be retained for practices as well as student use during the day. And while direct drop off via automobile is problematic, the central location means that walking to school is viable from most of Piedmont. Overall, this plan is better than many of the others. It keeps each school together in a centralized, walkable location.
Another option is Beach field, however this seems to be extremely weak proposal and not well thought out. This location is not easily walkable from most of Piedmont, so cars will be blocking Linda every morning and afternoon. Already there are traffic safety issues on Linda during school hours or soccer or baseball games. How would this be improved by adding to, possibly more than doubling, the student and teacher population there? Drop off and pick up would be a traffic nightmare. It also seems extremely unfair for Beach, which has the smallest amount of repair work needed, funds allocated, and improvements planned, to have to take the brunt of the interim housing effort for 3-4 years.
Hampton field is a decent choice, at least at first glance. It has four streets that come into a drop off point, has a large, contiguous field that could house portables, and also would allow for a small playground and basketball courts on site. Again, there are negatives. These include that the four approaches all meet at the same corner, so drop off would need some traffic coordination. Also, Hampton is very highly used by youth baseball, softball, soccer, as well as community tennis and basketball. If you think losing Witter baseball has a big impact on youth sports, imaging losing Hampton. The impact is much greater and directly affects a large pool of children aged 6-12.
Whew, what’s left? It seems there are still three or four options that won’t totally crater youth sports or put the burden on a school community who isn’t the primary beneficiary of the bulk of the Measure E construction. First is Witter Baseball Field, mentioned above. Aside from youth sports impact, it seems to offer the best location if the goal is to provide some continuity and community for displaced students. The field impact primarily affects 3 baseball teams. Second is Crocker Park. Yes, it’s not been considered, but it appears to be about as big as the Beach location and its temporary use would displace no youth sports or overburden one of the smaller elementary schools. Third is Coaches Field/Blair Park. The big negative here is traffic. However, the housing density is low compared to the other proposed locations, and if school walkers cross at Highland Avenue at the light, there is a separated sidewalk directly from Highland to Coaches field. The space to be considered should be all parking lot areas, the baseball field’s deep right field, and the corporation yard. Those three spaces alone allow for a huge area for portables, the baseball diamond as a field for school use, plus baseball, softball, and soccer could still use the field evenings and weekends. Parking for staff would be across Moraga in Blair park.
The final option is the one Drew mentioned in a previous post. “Flatten 801 Magnolia and put the PHS portables on that site and on Bonita from Magnolia to Vista. Once the Havens rebuild is complete, move the WW kids, and then the Beach kids, to the Havens portables. Since there are (I think) about 40% fewer kids at WW and Beach than at Havens, there would be a need for fewer portables, so instead of portables taking up the whole play space, they could build the new field and all the kids would have a big field (and the brand new MPR) for PE, etc.”
None of these proposals are perfect. Each has enough drawbacks and problems to take it out of the running. Yet, we need to figure a way to get this work done quickly and safely, and most of all, fairly. I encourage you to participate in the discussion at two upcoming community meetings.
Dec 1, 7:30 pm, City Hall, Joint meeting of the City Council and Board of Education
Dec 10, 7:00 pm, City Hall, Regular meeting of the Board of Education
Feel free to comment on this post. The purpose of this blog is discussion and debate for the Piedmont community and you are encouraged to participate in the conversation.