—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.