The first official public meeting for the High Tech High project was held on May 10. It was the first meeting for the new Clairemont subcommittee planning group since electing a new chair. The meeting was a bit rowdy — people talking over each other, intermittent loud applause, and some heated exchanges.
Paul Dooley, High Tech High facilities director, presented the project to the community with his ask to approve increasing the existing permit from 1110 to 1636 students.
Currently, the site at 5331 Mt. Alifan Drive is occupied by Horizon Christian Academy, a K-12 private school that has leased the space since 1985. High Tech High, a K-12 public charter school, purchased the property from the San Diego Unified School District in 2014 with plans to open up their newest campus in 2019.
Dooley discussed the project at a previous subcommittee meeting on a more informal basis. That crowd was smaller. The May 10 meeting had standing room only; people overflowed out the doors. In a room that allows for a maximum of 46, there were at least 75 people.
Before public commentary began, planning group members told everyone they had only one minute each to speak, as the room had to be cleared by 8:00 p.m.
Residents that live across from the school and in adjacent streets expressed serious concerns about traffic and parking. Horizon currently has 490 students. This includes pre-school students, so the K-12 total is closer to 250.
Before Horizon, the site was a public middle school (Hale). Some residents recalled a time when Hale and then Horizon had a student population near 1000 and didn’t want to go back to those negative impacts. Though someone pointed out that at least Hale middle school students didn’t drive.
One major concern was of hundreds of high school students parking on neighborhood streets. Dooley said there would only be 150 to 200 high school seniors and unlikely that all would have their own cars. Still there were concerns that the proposed 385 parking spaces wouldn’t cut it for both staff and students.
More than one person suggested a parking garage. One Mt. Everest Boulevard resident suggested busing students in, and another wanted them to be dropped off on the less residential Genesee Avenue side.
Cora was seen sorting papers on the floor before she spoke. She said she and a friend had counted cars on nearby streets that week. “Mt. Acadia, it was 5600-plus cars in one day and that’s on weekdays. Mt. Alifan, 7000-plus cars and Mt. Everest we counted 2506 cars on a weekday.”
Planning group member Richard Jensen commented that rush hours weren’t included in those tallies, which meant the actual numbers were likely double.
Charlotte, who lives off Mt. Acadia Boulevard, complained about high school students parking in front of her house. “They park there because they want to be first out in the afternoon; they don’t want to have to wait to get out of the parking lot.” One gentleman suggested that permitted residential parking might be called for.
An older gentleman brought up the jet fuel line that comes up from Point Loma to Miramar and through Mt. Acadia. “That was installed in 1954 and supposedly had a 30-year life-thread and that was almost 65 years ago.”
Dooley said that same jet fuel line runs by their Point Loma campus and that several miles were replaced last summer. He said the Navy is slowly replacing it. He said while the fuel line cuts through the school property, there are no plans to build over where it runs.
One planning group member pointed out that work is planned on Mt. Alifan Drive where the line runs — between Mt. Acadia and Genesee where plans are to make the street wider.
There was some strong disagreement over the proposed four-way stop on Mt. Acadia at the entrance to the school parking lot and the new proposed traffic signal on the corner of Mt. Acadia and Mt. Alifan.
Several community members pushed for the planning group to ask for a full environmental impact report. The planning group explained that this is the city’s call.
Some pleas and push-back from Horizon parents ended with one man demanding that Dooley clarify if he would lease High Tech High back to Horizon for another year. Negative, per Dooley. High Tech High has been Horizon’s landlord since 2014. They not only gave Horizon three years to find a new home but also a significant reduction in rent.
More than once the planning group had to remind people they already had a chance to speak. This didn’t quite stop some and led to people talking over each other. Things got a bit heated as one gentleman said, “I’ll be talking to people. I’m going to continue to do this, so you listen to us, okay? His money is not going to save you. You have to get past all the people that live here to be able to do what you want to do.”
A planning group member had to remind him that Dooley wasn’t the enemy.
Before the planning group took a vote, they were challenged by a community member that asked if any of them lived in the neighborhood and “if you don’t live there, would your recommendation change if you did live there?”
To this, one planning group member responded that he didn’t have to explain that and that they were all members of the community. He said that any anger should be directed toward the people who made the decision to sell the property away from Horizon instead of toward Dooley or the planning group.
It was noisy as a planning group member, Jensen, tried to make a motion. The community was told to quiet down by another member. Jensen made a motion to deny the change based on 1636 students being too high a burden on the neighborhood as far as traffic and parking. “I think High Tech High can make this work at 1100, and that’s what they should do.”
Dooley explained that their other campuses that are ten acres have 1100 or 1200 students and that it makes sense to have more on the Clairemont site, since it is near 20 acres.
Even though the higher number of students was an issue for the majority of the planning group, they decided to hold off on making a decision. Dooley is expected back at a future meeting.