Community members expressed their disapproval of the plan by shouting out their criticism and occasionally even heckling. Greg Braley, the person who started a now 6,000-signature Change.org petition to “Save Leland and Bret Harte,” was one of the main community representatives at the meeting. He voiced much of the negative sentiment over the proposal, claiming that the plan would ruin the aesthetics of Almaden, increase traffic congestion, negatively impact home values and waste taxes.
“I am unsure why we have to break down existing establishments and cannot build vertically instead. Our school is all single story, so constructing another floor seems like a far more logical way to expand. As for supporting our district’s teachers, I think most of them would prefer a raise,” Anu Sarkar, Science Department, said.
Other members questioned multiple aspects of SJUSD’s plan, such as the number of housing units planned, the amount of money generated by rent and how SJUSD would address ownership issues of the schools’ land for construction. SJUSD representatives responded that they were unable to answer these questions because the proposal was still in its early stages.
“The school district decided to see if we have any properties where we could better serve our students, address non-enrollment imbalances and support employee housing. The school district feels like we have an obligation to at least explore each school possibility because of the challenges of teacher turnover. That is all we are doing right now: exploring. Closing [the school] and Bret Harte was never discussed. We wanted to make sure that before we worked on the plan, people knew we were thinking about the possibilities so they could share their feedback,” McMahon said.
No action regarding the proposal will be taken in the near future, since the proposal is not a definitive plan. The district plans to analyze seven other properties, in addition to the school and Bret Harte, before making a final decision. In the meantime, supporters of the change.org petition have been encouraged to attend school board meetings to voice their concerns. While the Almaden sentiment appears negative, the communities of other proposed areas, like Selma Olinder Elementary School, have had “‘no outcry,’” according to Leslye Corsiglia, the executive director of Silicon Valley @ Home.
“The district never said that they were going to put teacher housing here, so I do not understand why people in Almaden are acting as if our schools are going to be demolished. Before jumping to conclusions, we should view the proposal rationally and be open to opposing ideas,” Senior Michelle Huang said.