In the past year, Jackie Landis, a writer and editor of online college courses, has stepped out of her quiet work to lead a charge against Francis Parker School in Linda Vista. Landis lives in the North Rim condominiums on Northrim Court, Parker’s eastern boundary. Homeowners in the complex rely on the street for access to Linda Vista Road, the community’s main traffic artery. They fear what a new upgrade Parker is proposing to its master plan will do to their neighborhood. The most troubling facet of the project is a new driveway on Northrim for circulating vehicles into and out of the campus.
The North Rim condominium complex comprises 26 buildings with carports, 296 units, and it houses approximately 500 residents. The driveway will disrupt their currently routine trips to and from home, they believe, by drawing the additional traffic of parents, students in their own cars, faculty, staff, and visitors, plus delivery, emergency, and construction vehicles. “We here on Northrim know that we live next to a school,” says Landis, who gives me a tour of the area after our talk. “We understand that we are subject to certain disruptions that other communities don’t have to endure. We get that. What they’re proposing now is a fairly large plan. We support 90 percent of it. But our street is a dead-end street. We don’t have an alternative for getting in and out of here,” says Landis.
Francis Parker School was founded in 1912 at the current location of its Lower School campus in Mission Hills (where another brouhaha with neighbors played out in 2001). Along with La Jolla Country Day School and the Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Parker is one of the most elite private schools in San Diego County. In a 2011 interview with CBS Money Watch, a “strategist” at College Match Educational Consultants mentioned Francis Parker as one of the most successful “feeder” schools for Ivy League colleges on the West Coast.
When I emailed questions to Parker’s head of school, Kevin Yaley, he said they would be answered by various experts appropriate to each question. When the answers were emailed back, I was curious who the experts were but was told only that the information came from Francis Parker School.
One major reason for the current Parker upgrade is to accommodate a rise in enrollment from 800 to 940. The project’s planned additions will include a “two-level underground parking structure” with 283 spaces. Directly over it, a “Dining/Athletic Complex” is to be constructed. Athletic fields are to be reconfigured and “six light standards for an elevated sports deck to exceed the allowed overall structure height by 12 feet” are to be installed. These standards will require a deviation from San Diego Municipal Code. The last time Parker upgraded lighting, it received similar deviations for “athletic field light standards with heights of 70, 80 and 90 feet.”
For the controversial driveway, Parker hired Urban Systems Associates to do the traffic-impact study. Residents don’t remember a traffic counting cord being placed on Northrim or on Linda Vista Road until they expressed to Parker their opposition to the driveway. Subsequently, based on data collected from a traffic counting cord on April 6, 2016, “when school was in session,” Parker says that the additional traffic added to the normal flow on Northrim Court will result in only a 22 percent increase.
“There seems to be a misunderstanding about how Parker intends to use the driveway and of the thorough analysis of that intended use,” the school says. The current main entrance will remain for the Middle School, while the new driveway on Northrim Court will serve the Upper School. The addition is planned to enter the campus 135 feet from Northrim’s intersection with Linda Vista Road, just past a 7-Eleven store on the other side of the street at the junction.
“The planned improvements,” says the school, which include a new traffic signal at Linda Vista Road and two dedicated exit lanes coming out of Northrim Court, “will benefit not only the Francis Parker students but the Northrim Court residents and the overall Linda Vista Community.” And the city has approved a mitigated negative declaration for the project.
In reply, Landis brings up Parker’s public approach. First, “they certainly do not appreciate the viewpoint of North Rim residents…. When they sit stone-faced at their so-called community meetings, refusing to respond to our legitimate questions and concerns, or bombarding us with statistics or incomprehensible industry jargon, that hardly shows a concern for us.” Second, “how can they possibly think that traffic will be improved on Northrim Court? When you add hundreds of previously non-existent vehicle trips every day, traffic will not improve. It can only deteriorate.”
Landis also says the 7-Eleven store will make the traffic signal at the corner problematic. “There are already too many lights on that stretch of Linda Vista Road anyway,” she says.
According to RK Engineering, the traffic engineer the homeowners hired, Parker’s effort to mitigate the traffic problem with two dedicated lanes will remove 18 parking places on the street. The slots are now filled every night because many married couples living in smaller units have to park one car on the street.
Landis says that Parker’s efforts to present the project have been disappointing. “They held a series of community workshops with the express purpose of showcasing their plan to the neighboring people and surrounding communities and opening the meetings up for questions. But every one of them has been a dog-and-pony show. It’s been a whitewash presentation. In fact, during the first one, they never even mentioned the driveway.
“They never mentioned they want to increase the number of nighttime events they hold on the athletic field from 50 to 60. And they didn’t mention that they are asking for a variance on light standards… lights that already illuminate our neighborhood. They didn’t mention any of that.
“That’s been a big bone of contention because they don’t adhere to the limit as it is. In 2014, I decided I’d keep track of their nighttime events. The city limits them to 50 per year. I stopped counting after 150.
Working with the North Rim homeowners board, Landis was able to bring Parker into compliance after threatening to sic the city’s code compliance office on them.
Landis didn’t learn the full truth about Parker’s plans until she got a copy of the school’s permit application from the city. “I was stunned. After that we challenged them. “We begged them, ‘Please don’t do this to us. At least compromise.’ They don’t see that this is going to bring such great harm to our neighborhood. And it will harm us in terms of our property values quite probably.
“And their traffic engineer admitted in a public meeting that they have alternatives for their circulation plan that would work fine.”
Howard Wayne is the person who queried school representatives about alternatives in a meeting of the Linda Vista Planning Group. In 2010, he ran unsuccessfully to represent the area in the city council. He is currently a member the Linda Vista planners, who eventually approved Parker’s project with a recommendation that the driveway be reconsidered.
By phone, Wayne says he advised Parker officials to do some “outreach” to the North Rim community. “Like what?” he says they replied.
Both sides have professional help. Beside the opposing traffic engineers, North Rim hired Craig Sherman, a land-use attorney. “We believe,” he tells me, “that the traffic count on Northrim was done in the wrong place [past the 7-Eleven’s driveway] and at the wrong time, not at a peak time.
“At the one meeting I attended,” Sherman continues, “I told the Parker representatives that their presentation was dishonest.”
Parker’s hires include Bartell and Associates, which advertises itself as a “government relations” firm. Principal Jim Bartell is known to the Reader as “a professional influence peddler.” According to Landis, Yaley, Parker’s head of school, did not seem to know many details of the project. “It was Bartell who conducted most of the presentations.” The community meetings are finished now, and Parker’s project is set to come before the city’s planning commission in a few weeks.
But at the last meeting, Landis posed Yaley a dicey issue. She had been reading on Parker’s website the school’s commitment to developing students “who are able to participate in the fundamental human conversation on what is right, fair and good.” So she asked: “Can you tell me how you feel morally about creating a convenience for yourself that will cause so much harm to your neighbors and has generated such ill will? Parker’s attorney, Cynthia Eldred, interrupted and shouted, ‘I’m not answering that question.’ I responded by saying, ‘I’m not asking you; I’m asking Kevin.’ Cynthia again shouted, ‘I’m not allowing him to answer that question.’ I looked Kevin in the eye and waited. He did not respond.”