By Justin DeCesare
Recently, current 7th District City Councilman Scott Sherman released a brief description of a measure he intends to champion that is meant to speed the permitting process for charter schools attempting to open throughout the city.
The Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) charter schools need to obtain in order to open a facility are in place in order to ensure the city is making a proper land use decision as to whether or not the school itself is in a viable location.
As this proposal makes its way through the city decision-making process, it’s imperative we look at the ramifications far beyond just talking points and rhetoric about how the permitting process is unfair.
Last year, the Tierrasanta Community Council and Planning Group was presented with one such CUP for a school that was supposed to be opening in the neighborhood.
As the chair, I immediately started receiving emails from local residents about how the one particular neighborhood was not right for another school, with one elementary school already in place directly behind the proposed site. There was only one true ingress and egress route for the neighborhood, and the school was potentially going into a shopping center that was adjacent to a fire station that would surely be blocked during the rush of parents putting children out of their cars in a hurry to get to work.
More concerns included that there was not enough security between the children and the commercial parking lot, and also there was no playground and any outside recess would pose a hazard to the young Kindergarten to fifth graders.
The city sent back recommendations a few times, traffic studies were conducted, and not every concern from the city planning department was met. Ultimately the school found a new more suitable location, and opened in a safer area for both the neighborhood as well as the kids.
The process worked.
These schools have a right to the same permitting process as anyone else obtaining a CUP, but reducing it just because they are charter schools puts many in the community at risk, specifically children.
This proposal presents a number of factors that not only seeks to weaken our public school system, but jeopardizes the safety of children.
For example, the current Land Development Code only allows charter schools in areas zoned with a “C” designator for commercial areas. Mr. Sherman’s proposal will allow charter schools of less than 50 students to be opened in “RM” zones, or multiple use residential. That means one of the deciding factors against opening a school, where there are children, could not consider that there are apartments on site, where parents don’t know who is residing a stone’s throw from a learning center.
The CUP process is not in place to make a determination if a new school is appropriate for the area from an educational standpoint, it is there to make determinations on land use decisions. I am all in favor of reducing costly wait times with any city permitting process, but the theory that speeding land use decisions is better for both children and neighborhoods is short sighted.
Mr. Sherman didn’t come to any of our multiple community meetings regarding the potential school. He didn’t listen to the concerns of neighbors, or ask the questions as to how this would affect the community he represents. This plan has nothing to do with furthering the education of children. It’s about politics, and attempting to qualify himself as a “pro-business” politician who is focused on making it easier for the private boards of charter schools to open and, in many instances, to make a profit; not about doing his job to protect his constituents.
As a parent myself, I want my children to go to schools that are reviewed for the proper safety precautions, just as I would for the educational standards set forth. The duty to prioritize safety and community concerns is given to the public officials who make these decisions, and I believe this is a responsibility any elected official should take very seriously.
Justin DeCesare is a real estate broker and President of the Tierrasanta Community Council and Planning Group. He served for 8 years in the United States Navy and is a candidate for San Diego City Council’s 7th District.