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Opinion: Traffic, Safety Still Major Concerns For Hillbrook School Neighbors

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—Submitted by Los Gatos resident Barbara Dodson

The completely residential streets now used to reach Hillbrook School have not changed since the 1960s. 

Key streets leading to the school are still narrow. The streets still don’t have sidewalks or bike lanes. But slowly and inexorably, Hillbrook School has increased its enrollment, and student traffic now overwhelms the neighborhood’s unchanged streets for major portions of the day, creating a highly unsafe environment.

Hillbrook now seeks to increase its enrollment even more. In 2011 the school asked for a new conditional use permit (CUP) to allow an enrollment increase of more than 30 percent—from 315 to 414. The issue has remained unresolved, but finally, this year there may be hearings at the Los Gatos Planning Commission and Los Gatos Town Council.

The vast majority of neighbors oppose any increase in Hillbrook’s enrollment. However, we see the current CUP process as an opportunity to finally get Hillbrook to control its traffic.

Hillbrook is breaking a promise to stay at an enrollment cap of 315. 

In 2001, the town approved a CUP allowing Hillbrook to upgrade its facilities. At the same time, Hillbrook expanded some of these facilities. Neighbors were concerned that, with this expansion, Hillbrook would ask for increased enrollment. Over and over again, the Head of School promised that Hillbrook would not ask to increase its enrollment beyond 315. Now a new administration is breaking this promise.

Neighbors want a daily, full-day traffic limit. 

There is only one access to Hillbrook. Hillbrook is at the end of a dead-end street. All cars must use Marchmont Drive both to enter and then to exit the campus. Heavy school traffic on Englewood, Hilow, Stonybrook, and Cardinal all funnels into Marchmont Drive.

Obviously an enrollment increase will make an already bad traffic situation worse. Currently, between 850 and 1,100 cars go back and forth on Marchmont Drive each school day. 

According to national standards and standards in other states and municipalities, the appropriate level of traffic on a dead-end residential street like Marchmont Drive is less than half this volume—between 250 and 500 total daily vehicle trips.

The intent of the 2001 CUP was to reduce Hillbrook’s total traffic. In 2001 almost all this traffic occurred during pickup and drop-off periods, so the CUP set limits for this peak period traffic. 

Since 2009, however, Hillbrook has dramatically expanded its afternoon activity and sports schedule. The school’s only traffic goal nowadays is to comply with the letter of the 2001 CUP while ignoring its spirit and intent. 

The school keeps its peak-period traffic under the CUP limit of 165 exiting trips for mornings and afternoons while generating large amounts of traffic outside of these periods. 

Often there is more traffic after the 3:45 p.m. peak period than during the peak period itself. Hillbrook is merely spreading its traffic throughout the day, a situation not foreseen in the 2001 CUP negotiations. As a result, full-day traffic is as heavy as ever. That is why we are asking for a full-day traffic limit rather than just peak-period limits. We hope to see traffic reduced to a reasonable daily level.

During the 2001 CUP negotiations, Hillbrook made commitments to reduce its heavy traffic through carpooling and vanpooling. As soon as the CUP was approved, these commitments were ignored. Only recently, as it has become relevant to Hillbrook's application for increased enrollment, has the school installed a traffic mitigation program. But this program has no targets for traffic reduction. It has reduced peak period traffic but has NOT reduced overall total daily traffic. And it is a voluntary program that is likely to be ignored, just as the 2001 commitments were ignored, as soon as any new CUP is approved.

Neighbors believe that a daily maximum, capturing both trips in and out of the Hillbrook gate, would capture the total traffic Hillbrook generates and not permit Hillbrook to simply shift its traffic outside the specified peak periods just to stay within CUP traffic limits.

Opening the Ann Arbor gate would help address the traffic problem

People are often surprised to discover that there is a second access to Hillbrook, since having a second access would go a long way toward addressing the traffic problem. This second access is through a gate at the end of Ann Arbor Drive.

In 2001, when there were already serious traffic problems, opening up the Ann Arbor side of campus to traffic was recommended by the TJKM  traffic study and supported by then Head of School Sarah Bayne. Here is what the traffic study said: “(If the Ann Arbor gate were opened to traffic), the traffic patterns on Marchmont Drive and other nearby streets including Englewood Avenue could be reduced to almost normal traffic patterns. Clearly, equity in accommodating school access traffic would be best achieved by the use of Ann Arbor Drive for a fair share of school access traffic.”

This logical way to share traffic more equitably was not approved only because a large number of people from the Ann Arbor side lobbied against it.  Ann Arbor residents were even able to block allowing pedestrians to use that entrance despite the fact that, unlike all the streets on the Marchmont side, Ann Arbor has sidewalks.

Hillbrook says it can’t open the Ann Arbor gate because this wouldn’t be fair to Ann Arbor residents, who bought their homes with the understanding that there would be no increase in traffic related to Hillbrook. This argument fails to take into account that residents on the Marchmont side bought their homes with the same understanding.

The commitment not to open the Ann Arbor gate has the same history as the commitment not to increase Hillbrook’s enrollment beyond 315. Both were conditions in the 1984, 1987, and 2001 CUPs. If one condition can be reconsidered, so can the other.

The numbers are astonishing. To reach Hillbrook from a major street using Ann Arbor, vehicles and pedestrians would pass a total of 13 homes. Starting from major streets on the Marchmont side, vehicles and pedestrians must pass as many as 85 homes. Using the Ann Arbor side for at least some of the Hillbrook traffic would result in far less disturbance, noise, and pollution for the neighborhood overall. 


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Philip de Louraille January 22, 2014 at 02:39 PM
Very clear article stating excellent arguments for opening the other gate.
Maria Ristow January 23, 2014 at 12:01 AM
Like so many of the newly approved developments in town over the past couple of years, an increase in enrollment at Hillbrook would be an intensification of use and create further burdens on the surrounding neighborhood. Sound familiar? TRAFFIC is an issue all over town, and the Planning Commission and Town Council members need to protect the residential neighborhoods. It is particularly onerous when a business violates terms of an existing CUP while asking for increased hours/students/events etc. We are all neighbors!
JR January 23, 2014 at 01:50 PM
It's very disappointing to see how long it has taken the town to do anything on this. It's another example of our paid government again failing to enfore the conditional use permits (CUP) at the expense of the neighbors. It took the Broadway residents forever to get anything done, and now it's longer than forever to get anything done at Hillbrook. The school should expand outside the neighborhood much as Harker Academy has done. They should not be able to impose their growth at the expense of the neighborhood.
Maria Ristow January 24, 2014 at 12:26 AM
It would also REALLY help residents (and likely other businesses) if the CUPs were available online through the Town Website. I know staff is busy, but this is a one-time push to get it all there. Maybe hire a temp worker or two and just get it done?
Kelle Toth January 28, 2014 at 03:44 AM
I am a resident on Marchmont Drive and I have twice almost been broadsided backing out of my driveway by parents speeding around the corner. I have stopped walking with my kids to school at Blossom Hill Elementary because we were almost hit by a parent speeding around the corner and looking down. Not to mention the speeding of Hillbrook parents on Hilow, some peeling out around the corner from Shannon in a hurry to get their kids to school. This is the route that neighborhood kids take to walk/bike to Blossom Hill Elementary. It is sad that I have to increase area traffic, pollute the air and not get as much exercise to drive my kids less than a mile to school and back, in order to keep them safe. While one street of 13 homes, with a sidewalk, is not used. If something ever happens to a kid walking to school in this neighborhood, I will put my resources behind a lawsuit against Hillbrook and the city of Los Gatos for allowing such unsafe conditions in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
Silent Majority March 04, 2014 at 05:59 PM
It is sad that this is a us against them argument, we are all residents of Los Gatos, except the folks in Marchmont who are actually in unincorporated Santa Clara County. There are speeders, but they are coming and going to all schools in the area and folks speeding to work. Simply trying to close down a great private school will not alleviate the pain we feel, why not get Sheriff's from Santa Clara County to patrol Marchmont?
Rosalie March 04, 2014 at 11:19 PM
Silent Majority?! Of what?! This sounds suspiciously like a Hillbrook administrator,parent or Ann Arbor resident. What is sad is the residents of Los Gatos have to fight to keep their streets safe and free of unnecessary traffic. Both the Marchmont and Ann Arbor sides should work together to have the school moved. What is the reasoning behind letting a school located in the middle of a neighborhood continue to grow in numbers. EVERY other school in Los Gatos is located off of a main street (Los Gatos Blvd, Blossom Hill, Daves/Winchester, Main St) with SIDEWALKS, yet increased enrollment is allowed in a school that takes a minimum of 3 neighborhood streets (withOUT sidewalks) to get to a final dead end street where the school is located. Not to mention with only one opening, residents on Marchmont have ALL traffic coming and going. And FYI, my house on Marchmont IS incorporated, so check your facts! The allowed traffic should be limited to actual residents who are taking their kids to the public schools they pay for with their property taxes. I'd like to know the percentage of Hillbrook students who live on the streets that are getting Hillbrook traffic. Considering I only see 1 family walk to school each day, my guess is the percentage is very low. I recently overheard a conversation at a cocktail party from a Hillbrook parent talking about how they are just having to put up with the buses/carpooling until the enrollment increase is okayed. Yes we know, the school did this back in 2001. There is currently no enforcement of current promises, so why should we reward the school with increased enrollment? It makes no sense. IMO the school should be closed and moved to a campus with proper access. New homes in the current Hillbrook location would bring in more property tax dollars and increase the value of the neighborhood. I know my walk to our local public school, Blossom Hill Elementary, is extremely peaceful and devoid of 99% of the current traffic on days when Blossom Hill is in session and Hillbrook is not in session.
Silent Majority March 05, 2014 at 12:16 AM
Rosalie, you have raised the civil discourse to a dangerous new level. I assume you are the new spokesperson for the anti-Hillbrook movement and are now calling for the closure of Hillbrook. Well, unfortunately your arguments lack merit and truly seem to be written in a sudden fit of rage. Now to dispel your many untruths: 1.) I am not a Hillbrook administrator, just simply a long-time Los Gatos resident who puts his children gladly on a school bus to Hillbrook each morning and will continue to do so until they graduate. 2.) There are a dozen Hillbrook families that live on Rosalie, Marchmont, Englewood, Topping, Shannon etc. For privacy sake I will not name them on this site but they would love to meet you for coffee if you are willing. 3.) Over 150 Hillbrook students reside within Los Gatos Town limits, each of their families pays Santa Clara County property taxes just like you which helps fund our wonderful public school and we love doing it! 4.) If your terrorist organization succeeds in closing Hillbrook, here are the consequences Rosalie: a.) a very high-development project will be approved consisting of apartments, condos and high-density housing on the 13+ acrea that Hillbrook currently occupies and those families will send their kids primarily to LG public schools (look to Swanson Ford). b.) the 150 Los Gatos students who attend Hillbrook will be looking to find seats at the Los Gatos public schools, so 100's of new students being absorbed by the Los Gatos public schools. c.) this is no threat, this is reality, a developer will need to be able to earn a profit and the local schools are required to support the influx, hmmm. You are basing all of your arguments on zero facts, I ask you to send me a private note of the Hillbrook family who made that absolutely ridiculous comment which I do not believe for one second really happened. You are attacking our children, they live in fear of passing your homes where you display utter looks of disdain at them. My youngsters ask why your terrorist group hates them so much, I explain to them the intolerance that has existed in our country's history and sadly we are experiencing this first hand in our own neighborhoods. Is it that we have children of color attending Hillbrook, yes we do and we love our diversity but possibly Rosalie fears an invasion of non-white children in her neighborhood, who know but this person is seething in rage and will stop at nothing to get his/her way, time for us to be much more vigilant. Thanks goodness we do not live in Russia, because Rosalie would do something very damaging to the wonderful children of Hillbrook.

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