You Down with O.L.P.?

Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood overlooking Mission Valley, the Academy of Our Lady of Peace (O.L.P.) is a Catholic High School for young women. The private institution, founded in 1882, relocated from downtown to Normal Heights in 1924.

In 1993, the school obtained a conditional use permit that set the enrollment at 640 students and 46 faculty members. Since then, school enrollment has swelled to 726, the number of faculty has grown to 67, and the school is running out of land.

During the past three years, school administrators have hired architects and consultants to bring forth plans to add a new building to house a technology-and-science department, a library and media center, offices for faculty, and a two-story parking structure. The expansion plans have created conflict between Our Lady of Peace and the community that surrounds the school.

Last September, the Greater North Park Planning Committee opposed the project eleven votes to one.

They said the school has operated in violation of the conditional use permit for over a decade. The traffic from the extra students has transformed residential streets into speedways. Community members also say the school has disregarded the number of special events allowed by the conditional use permits. Most of all, the community takes issue with the prospect of removing three historic homes to make way for a parking structure and new building, violating the community’s general plan.

Despite the community’s concerns and the rejection from the North Park Planners, in October of last year the San Diego Planning Commission unanimously approved the project.

On Monday, January 26, the city council heard the community’s appeal. Hundreds of residents crowded council chambers, and, for over three hours, dozens of speakers testified for and against the project.

Following the testimony, District 3 representative Todd Gloria offered up a motion, calling for an adjustment of the school’s enrollment to 750 students and 67 faculty members, while denying the permits necessary for the school’s expansion until the community and school administrators reach an agreement about the future of the three historic houses.

The council, however, decided to delay the ruling until a March 3 meeting, allowing the city attorney’s office and city staff time to review the impact of Councilmember Gloria’s motion. If the project plan is denied in its entirety, the school would be required to begin the permit and design process anew, which could take years.

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I live right there on suncrest. And man do they clog the streets. They never let me out the alley when I'm trying to cross the street, they just keep coming and coming. It is kind of funny seeing the plaid skirts walking the same streets as customers of Kadan, at the 12 o clock lunch hour.

Regarding the plans of the Academy of our Lady of Peace to push an expansion into a residential neighborhood that the Greater North Park Planning Commission recommends against as "out of scale" with the character of that neighborhood: If school principal Sister Delores Anchondo signed the CUP agreement in 1995 not knowing that enrollment was capped at 640, that would be a simple case of administrative incompetence. But evidence points to a pattern of deliberately misleading City code inspectors. At the administrative hearing which resulted in a fine and conditions to roll back enrollment to the CUP cap of 640 by July 2008, a contractor is on record testifying how he painted striping on a CUP required parking area, then came back to remove the striping fourteen days after the inspection was complete. It appears as if the school never intended to comply with the 1995 CUP from the time of its award. Remember, a CUP grants a privilege to operate under set conditions. It does not confer an absolute right. If the conditions are not met or, as in this case, are intentionally subverted, the CUP can and should be revoked. Evidently, there was compelling evidence of a violation, otherwise Administrative Judge Mandel Himelstein would not have levied the fine and order to reduce enrollment. I doubt that Judge Himelstein's order was made capriciously or erroneously. As a flagrant lawbreaker for thirteen years, the school should not be rewarded for its continuing violation of the law. It should be held to the conditions of the existing CUP of 1995. The school administration's arrangement to postpone the enrollment rollback from July 2008 to February 2009 amounts to using the overenrolled students as hostages in the hope that politicians will feel sorry for them and rule in the school's favor. This move further demonstrates the heartless, cutthroat tactics employed by the school's administration who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals at the expense of the surrounding property owners and even their students.

Having graduated from the Academy in the 90s, I can only offer this perspective: the school does a world of good for the girls who attend. I believe that, while admittedly being a traffic pain for the neighborhood (I, too, live nearby now - and I see the "clogged" streets every day), the Academy is an incredibly valuable educational institution. I would rather take the traffic than see the students be forced to leave.

I can't speak to velo's argument at all, having not heard nor seen any of the testimony. But if a school achieves a goal of excellent education, I wonder if the community shouldn't support it rather than supress it.

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