Monday, July 10, 2017

HALA and Public Schools

You may recall that when the Mayor's HALA plan for our city came out, the plan consistently referred to schools as "amenities."  That's just wrong because no city is great without great schools which are part of the infrastructure of a city.  (They also had it in the plan that if the City built housing that could support a school at the street level, that school would go to a charter group.  When I challenged that idea, the word "charter" mysteriously disappeared.  No one at any HALA meeting will explain how it got in there and why it went away.)

You may have recently received an e-mail about the EIS for the HALA plan with a link for public comments.  I have to smile because while I think it important that citizens have access to the entire plan, it's a huge document.  I think if you really wanted input, a detailed synopsis would have been helpful. That's if you really wanted public input.

A reader did alert me to a section I had missed in the plan, called Public Services and Utilities (with public schools being part of that).   (And thank you to this reader; I depend on readers to send me this kind of information.)

What this reader noted:
In addition to my dismay that the Comprehensive Plan seemingly did not include Crown Hill in its study of schools by sector (not listed on page 4), and omitting Whitman Middle School from the list of schools lacking full sidewalk infrastructure (page 5 and 15), the DEIS does not offer sufficient mitigations on the impact of rezoning on Seattle Public Schools. Note page 15:
"SPS would respond to the exceedance of capacity as it has done in the past, by adjusting school boundaries and/or geographic zones, adding or removing portables, adding/renovating buildings, reopening closed buildings or schools, and/ or pursuing future capital programs." 
What that section also says about public schools (partial):
The Comprehensive Plan analyzed public schools through sectors. Sectors and their respective urban villages are included below.
  • Sector 1: Ballard, Fremont, Aurora-Licton Springs, Green Lake, Greenwood-Phinney Ridge, Wallingford; 
  • Sector 2: Northgate, Lake City, Roosevelt;
  • Sector 3: Uptown; 
  • Sector 4: Eastlake; 
  • Sector 5: First/Capitol Hill, 23rd & Union-Jackson, Madison-Miller; 
  • Sector 6: Admiral, Morgan Junction; 
  • Sector 7: South Park; and 
  • Sector 8: North Rainier, Columbia City, North Beacon Hill, Rainier Beach.
The Seattle Public Schools 2012 Facilities Master Plan (SPS, 2012) identified enrollment projections through 2022 for elementary, middle and high schools in Seattle. The projection is 13 years shorter than the 2035 planning horizon of the Seattle Comprehensive Plan.

An important element to public school infrastructure capacity includes sidewalks that are used for transportation to and from schools. SDOT identifies the preferred routes through their Safe Routes to School program. Out of the 105 schools in the SPS school district, approximately 25 are missing sidewalk infrastructure (City of Seattle, 2015). Of these, urban villages that are near or contain schools lacking full sidewalk infrastructure walking routes include: Northgate, Bitter Lake, Lake City, North Beacon Hill, Othello, Rainier Beach, South Park, and Greater Duwamish.
The SPS Facilities Master Plan was always a joke because, as Charlie always said, it's not a plan - it's an assembly of information.  I was on the committee for that plan earlier in this century and they really were not interesting in real planning.  But I also can't blame SPS for not having a plan into 2035 because that would be very difficult to make predictions with any real accuracy.
This section goes on to make predictions based on different alternatives.
Alternative One:

Public Schools

Under the No Action alternative, growth would continue to occur based on the preferred alternative identified in the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan. For SPS, growth is expected to be most evident in Northwest Seattle, Northeast Seattle, Downtown/Lake Union and Capitol Hill/ Central District. The Northwest Seattle, Northeast Seattle and Capitol Hill/Central Districts currently have the capacity to serve potential growth (City of Seattle, 2015). 
I'm going to assume the City got those numbers from the Facilities Master Plan because we all know that NE Seattle schools, even with opening new buildings, are still very full.  As well, the above statements would contradict the need for downtown schools.  Hmmm.
Alternative Two (bold mine):

Public Schools

Population growth would increase student enrollment in various urban villages throughout the city. Approximately 30 percent of SPS’s schools are located in urban villages. Encouraging population growth in urban villages could result in the exceedance of maximum enrollment levels. SPS has calculated enrollment through the 2021/2022 school year, while the MHA is projected through 2035. SPS would respond to the exceedance of capacity as it has done in the past, by adjusting school boundaries and/or geographic zones, adding or removing portables, adding/renovating buildings, reopening closed buildings or schools, and/ or pursuing future capital programs. If the MHA program is adopted, SPS would adjust their enrollment projections accordingly for the next planning cycle.

The rise in enrollment at public schools in urban villages will impact SPS transportation services. The Northgate, Bitter Lake, Lake City, North Beacon Hill, Othello, Rainier Beach, South Park, Greater Duwamish urban villages are currently experiencing strain on existing deficient sidewalk infrastructure. As a result, the increased school capacity in these villages would subsequently burden the existing sidewalk infrastructure even further, posing a safety risk to pedestrian students.
  "SPS would respond?"  Look, we're all in this together and the City cannot possibly believe the district - by itself - will be able to respond to all this growth without help.  Yes, the district will "pursue future capital programs" but it won't be able to keep up with the pace of growth with just BEX.  As well, there are near-zero "closed buildings" and "adding portables' is not a growth solution - it's a bandaid.

The comment period is open until August 7, 2017. Please comment using our online form, by email to MHA.EIS@seattle.gov, or by mail to:  
Office of Planning and Community Development
PO Box 34019

Seattle, WA 98124-4019


Anonymous said...

So sad. We are a newly rich city with money pouring in. Young people moving here with a promise of a starting salary of $125K +. Yet I do not see the city capitalizing on this. I have seen minimal improvements to our park system, to our roads and sidewalks, and nothing more than the minimum necessary to find classroom space for the expanding student population. Etc. Etc.

The city needs to step up and find a way to take advantage of our new wealth.

-NW Mom

juicygoofy said...

Thank you for posting, Melissa, and especially for providing the link for comment.

The DEIS, or draft environmental impact statement, should be exactly as defined...an environmental IMPACT statement. By presuming that the district will just adjust projections, the city is "passing the buck" and not adequately studying the actual IMPACTS that increasing density (under the proposed structure of MHA) will bring. We should all comment and ask that the best studies and projections be provided and that realistic mitigations be proposed in the final EIS.

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