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Country schools under siege

Supervisors approve building permit change that could jeopardizes small-school construction

Posted: March 1, 2009 1:26 a.m.
Updated: March 1, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Private schools in rural settings are about to come under the same harsh scrutiny required of inner-city schools following an ordinance change handed down by the Board of Supervisors.

“I did everything I could and it was a tough fight,” said Lynnea Clark, mother of a 12-year-old student at Monticello Preparatory School who fought for a ranch-style school setting in Castaic’s Hasley Canyon.

“The fight to get into that space — that’s over,” she said quietly. “With this new ordinance being passed, I don’t see what options we have to get into a ranch-like setting.”

Last week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a recommendation requiring private-school operators to obtain a conditional-use permit before building their schools in unincorporated, rural agricultural areas.

Traditionally, operators had only to convince the director of planning that building a private school in the country was a good idea.

Not any more.

Supervisors approved the change because rural private schools still pose a significant impact on public infrastructure, traffic and noise.

County lawyers are now directed to change the ordinance.

“I want small classroom sizes with a small teacher-student ratio,” Clark said. “My worry is that we’re going to stay in a strip mall.”

Right now, after three years of fighting for a country setting, Monticello remains sandwiched between a dental office and a dry cleaners in the Vista Village strip mall in Valencia.

Students in conservative purple uniforms study under a wall mural of a pastoral scene. It’s the only place you’ll find Monticello Preparatory School — in a vision.

“This is going to have a real chilling effect on the building of private schools,” said Rebecca Cranert, director of Monticello Preparatory School, who continues to fight for her school to be built in Hasley Canyon.

“We have to think about a new process for siting private schools,” she said Friday. “Public schools are protected. We need to protect private schools, too.”

The thrust of the new ordinance stems from the concern by some legislators that no school operates in a vacuum. Even a private school built in the middle of farmland where cattle graze — an area defined by the planning commission as “A-2 Heavy Agricultural” — has an impact on the environment around it.

The new ordinance affects 2,649 square miles of unincorporated land in Los Angeles County, including several hundred square miles in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Monticello Preparatory School operates in the shadow of California School of the Arts in Vista Valencia Village with the ongoing understanding that the location is temporary.

The long-coveted permanent home for the school is in Hasley Canyon in an unincorporated area zoned “A-2 Heavy Agricultural.”

Residents in Hasley Canyon have railed tirelessly against the proposed private school with the enthusiasm typically demonstrated by communities opposed to new landfills and garbage dumps.

Monticello educators were hopeful last fall when their request to build in the countryside was in the approval stage and on its way to becoming a reality.

“Some people complained and six weeks later, the commission rescinded our approval,” Cranert said. “We thought we could get it turned around but that didn’t happen.”

Castaic Town Council member Robert Kelly, who represents Hasley Canyon, welcomes the change in county ordinance.

“Hasley Canyon is a rural setting, zoned A-2,” he said Friday. “The people who live there have horses and ranches and they live there because they don’t want to live next to schools and airports.

“If you had a house there, how would you like it if a school was built for one hundred kids?  That’s two car trips per child every day,” he said.

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