For some residents on Graves Avenue in Monterey Park, getting out of their driveway can be a daily struggle. The hilly street draws commuters rushing to get in or out of the neighborhood.
Now, a proposal to allow a private middle school to open at a church on that same street has some residents concerned another school will only add more noise and traffic to the area.
The Monteressori school is proposing to move some of its students to St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church on 133 Graves Ave. due to a lack of space at their Garfield Avenue location.
Meher Montessori School Founder John F. Page applied for a new school permit last year after parents and teachers asked school officials to look into opening an off-site location for middle school students. The school currently enrolls around 115 students, ages 3-12. If the permit is approved, four current students would be moved to the site on Graves, which could expand to accommodate as many as 30 students.
Neighboring residents sprang into action to stop approval of the permit as soon as they heard about the school proposal. They say there are already too many schools on the busy street, which already has two schools less than a mile from the church.
“We are for education, we are not against it and we are for church,” said David Chow a longtime resident near the proposed school. “We just think this is the wrong location.”
The school is not affiliated with the church but Page believes the location is “ideal” for the middle school’s 7th and 8th grade students, who will be taught in one of the church’s Sunday school classrooms. Extended childcare will also be available at the site.
“It’s difficult to find a location that is suitable for children,” he said. “Whenever anything involves children everyone gets hyper-vigilant, but that’s a good thing.”
Nicole Bravo is a lifetime resident of Monterey Park who lives near the church. She is helping to lead the campaign to stop the school, which she says means more traffic when students are picked up and dropped off.
“Traffic on Graves at that hour is out of control, specially during the time we’re trying to pull out of our driveways,” she said.
That concern has led to a sea of signs reading “No New Middle School On Graves Ave!” along the streets surrounding the church.
“I wouldn’t want my children attending a school in a neighborhood that doesn’t want them,” Bravo said.
But Page believes the outrage is based on “misinformation,” including rumors that up to 200 students would attend the school and that construction would be required on the roadway.
“All this is over four students,” he said, notably confused by the aggressive campaign being launched against his school.
According to Page, only four students would attend the school next year if the proposal is approved. Although it is not made clear on the city’s staff report, Page told EGP the proposal allows for no more than 30 students to be enrolled on the campus.
His number goes along with the traffic report and staff findings that the classroom could hold no more than 40 students. Even then, it would take up to 10 years to build enrollment up to 30 students, Page said.
The low number, however, doesn’t reassure Bravo who thinks the traffic report is wrong in its finding the project would not cause any significant impact to noise or traffic.
“That’s still 30 more cars that add to the chaos,” said Bravo.
Page said traffic would not be impacted because school policy requires parents to pull into the campus to sign their child in or out when they are dropped off or picked up.
Some residents find that process even more concerning, because they say it will stall traffic on Garfield and Graves as parents attempt to enter and exit the church driveway, making it even harder for some residents to get out of their own driveways.
“We’re not asking for traffic to get slower, we want something that will stop traffic so that we can get out of our driveways,” Bravo said.
The Monterey Park Planning Commission approved the proposal last November, but opponents are appealing the decision on the grounds that it was made without an adequate analysis of the impact to traffic.
“I don’t see why we need another school,” Chow said. “I’m concerned over the safety of the children.”
Michael Huntley, Monterey Park’s recently hired community and economic development director, told EGP the commission vetted out any issues that arose from the proposal during three separate hearings before making their decision.
“Based on the information and analysis, we believe the proposal is not going to have an impact,” he said, citing the limited number of students and the history of the location. “It’s an appropriate use.”
Bravo said she disagrees that the location is a safe place for a school, because she can’t imagine the number of students would be capped once the school is established and money is invested.
“Once they open the door they’re not going to take it back,” she said. “They’ll start small, get their foot in the door and grow from that.”
But any increase in the number of students would require the school to apply for a modified permit, says Huntley. If any part of the conditional use permit is violated, including the number of students attending the location or parents failing to follow drop off procedures, the city would have cause to revoke the permit, he said.
The city council will serve as the appeals board and decide whether to uphold or overturn the planning commission’s permit approval.
The meeting will be held at Monterey Park City Hall, Jan. 15 at 6:45 p.m. where both parties are urging supporters to attend.
Twitter: @nancyreporting