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Opinion: Hillbrook School Should Not Be Allowed to Expand

Already congested area is threatened with new traffic if school is allowed to increase enrollment by 99 additional students.

Can the neighborhood around absorb an at least 32 percent increase in traffic? The answer is no—yet this would be the result if it has its way and is allowed to increase enrollment.

Hillbrook School, which for almost 30 years has committed itself to remaining a small country day school, has decided it needs to grow. It will be asking the Los Gatos Planning Commission to allow an enrollment increase of 99 students, from 315 to 414. Hillbrook will make this request despite the fact that, for years, neighbors have asked the school to try to decrease the large amount of traffic it generates.

In making its request, Hillbrook takes no notice of the already dangerous traffic situation in the area. Traffic in the neighborhood, which includes upper and lower Marchmont, Englewood, Hilow, Topping, Stonybrook, Kennedy, Shannon, Loma, and Ferris, is already dangerously heavy. And traffic becomes downright scary when everyone is headed to and from school—Hillbrook children going to and from Hillbrook and neighborhood children walking, biking, and scootering to Blossom Hill Elementary, Van Meter Elementary, and Fisher Middle School. The problem is made even worse by the fact that neighborhood streets have no sidewalks and no bike lanes. Some streets even have blind curves.

Hillbrook is tucked deep inside a completely residential community. There is only one access road in and out. Hillbrook parents have to wind through the completely residential neighborhood to reach the school because there is no access from the main streets of Kennedy and Shannon.

We in the neighborhood cannot understand why our town representatives would seriously consider Hillbrook’s request. An enrollment increase would have no benefit to Los Gatos. Hillbrook is a nonprofit, and thus pays no taxes. Most of Hillbrook’s students come from out of town. There is no upside for Los Gatos residents. All we would get from an enrollment increase would be traffic, noise, pollution, and dangerous conditions for our children.

This traffic issue is not new. The Commission and then the Town Council discussed the issue in 2000-2001. Even then, the traffic questions were not resolved to the satisfaction of neighborhood residents. Residents asked that the town limit Hillbrook’s peak hour traffic to 100 vehicles. The cap was set at 165.

In 2000-2001, Hillbrook was asking permission to upgrade and expand its facilities. Residents were highly concerned that the expansion would lead to an enrollment increase and, thus, more traffic. At that time, then Head of School Sarah Bayne in a memo to the Commission wrote: “There has been continued suggestion that the school’s master plan indicates its interest in increasing its population and overall size of the school.” The next sentence was boldfaced and underlined in the memo. “At no point has Hillbrook ever requested a change in its conditional use permit, which limits the school’s population to 315.” At Commission and Council meetings, Bayne repeated over and over that Hillbrook would not increase its enrollment.

The Town approved a new conditional use permit in 2000. Permission for new construction was contingent on no enrollment increase. Any request for an enrollment increase now can only be construed as a breach of faith on Hillbrook’s part.

Here are some additional issues:

  • Hillbrook has frequently violated the current conditional use permit. For example, during the summer of 2011, Hillbrook allowed a private camp to use its facilities. The head of school said that at least 900 children were enrolled in summer programs. Under the CUP, Hillbrook cannot rent or lease its facilities, nor should it have more than 315 children on site. Given this and other violations, neighbors doubt that they can trust Hillbrook to adhere to a new CUP.
  • Hillbrook’s summer violations would have continued if the neighborhood had not acted as a watch dog and caught the school in the act of disregarding the existing CUP. This is not a role the neighborhood should be required to play.
  • Hillbrook is proposing most of its growth for its middle school. An increase at the middle school level will bring not only an increase in the number of cars dropping off and picking up children. It will also create more traffic with after-school and evening events.
  • Hillbrook claims it needs to expand so it can offer more sports programs and other activities. But there are innumerable opportunities for Hillbrook students to play almost any sport you can imagine. Hillbrook students have done this for decades, and thrived.
  • Hillbrook continually indicates that it encourages carpooling, and we can see some carpooling. However, this has not solved the problem in the past. There is no reason to expect it will solve the problem in the future.

Hillbrook’s planned expansion goes against the letter and spirit of the Los Gatos 2020 General Plan. The Plan states that “planning for neighborhood preservation and protection is one of the most important purposes of the Town’s General Plan.” It also promises to:

  • Prohibit uses that …  adversely impact the public safety … of a residential neighborhood. 
  • Minimize opportunities for regionally-generated traffic to cut through Los Gatos.
  • Make land use decisions that encourage walking, bicycling, and public transit use.
  • We hope that the Commission and Council will adhere to their own guiding principles and deny Hillbrook’s request to increase its enrollment.
Joseph Sordi, Sr February 03, 2012 at 03:53 PM
As the author notes, Hillbrook is tucked deep inside a completely residential community. There is only one access road in and out. Would any community allow a school to be built today that has such limited access ? Very doubtful. There is only one locked emergency gate located off Ann Arbor drive. Parts of the campus are difficult if not impossible to access from the emergency road. It's madness to add an additional 100 students in that environment. The campus is too small and too inaccessible. Hillbrook should provide an auxiliary campus if they want to expand their student population. If not, they should open the gate at Ann Arbor and add additional parking on campus to allow easy flow from Ann Arbor. They should also make all points of their campus easily accessible by vehicle from both Ann Arbor road and Marchmont Drive
NS February 16, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Hillbrook School is 76 years old and was in existance before the homes around the neighborhood were ever built. If you purchased a home in the area you knew that you were purchasing in a school zone. I think it is terrible that some of you mention that some people do not live in the area.. Do your kids play sports in other areas, dance in other areas go to private high schools in other cities other than Los Gatos...what does that have to do with anything. By the way most of the parents have coffee in los gatos, lunch in los gatos, shop downtown during the day and meet for dinner after school events in Los Gatos therefore these families do add revenue to the town.
Joseph Sordi, Sr February 20, 2012 at 01:58 PM
NS misses the point entirely. The Hillbrook neighbors are NOT challenging the schools right to exist. We all know it was here before we were. We simply want them to adhere to their current use permit, which limits enrollment to 315. The meaning of your 2nd comment eludes me. No one is asking current Hillbrook students to engage in activities outside the campus. Regarding your 3rd point, I seriously doubt that MOST parents have lunch, dinner, etc. in town. Again, you are referring to parents of children who currently attend the school. The Hillbrook School and the neighbors have had a good live-and-let-live relationship for years. Hillbrook has done all they can to reduce traffic while continually and emphatically promising to keep enrollment no higher than 315 as specified in their use permit. Neighbors have cooperated, for example by not parking on the streets to facilitate traffic flow. Now, with a relatively new administration, Hillbrook is attempting to change all that, to break their promise to limit enrollment to 315. THAT is what we are contesting, not their right to exist under currently agreed to conditions.
Tom Brown February 21, 2013 at 03:44 AM
There is a distinct overtone through these comments of NIMBYism (not in my back yard) which as a local resident myself, I feel deeply ashamed about. We all know that the current public school system in Los Gatos is over-stretched and more school space is needed. Someone is going to have more traffic as the schools expand to keep pace with Los Gatos' growth and the fact that Hillbrook now has several buses running, has reduced the traffic quite significantly over the recent months. Is it perfect; no: is it necessary; yes. Hillbrook has a great reputation as a school and while many of us would rather use the publc schools, I am delighted that Hillbrook takes some LG children, reducing the pressure we have elsewhere on the school system. If you all want to complain about the traffic get out of your own cars and walk next time. Will you do it, no, probably not, you like me would rather not be inconvenienced. TAB
NS February 21, 2013 at 05:05 PM
Tom I appreciate your comment. I myself live in South San Jose and chose to send my child to Hillbrook School. I have two schools right around the corner from my house one is private and one public. At 3:00pm the street to get to my home is completely congested with traffic and a huge line for pick ups. No one in my neighborhood has filed any petitions or legal actions against the schools or stopped them from making progress or taking more kids. ( the private ). I think it is very sad that Los Gatos residents think they are supposed to be exempt from traffic. If you live near any school in any district you will have traffic at drop off and pick up. That was my point. The teachers are now walking and taking buses to Hillbrook and tons of children are on one of the two busses running. I wish I could take advantage of this however . There is not yet a bus that runs from South San Jose. I also am employed and work in Los Gatos where I do contribute to the town by spending money on lunch , shopping and participating in programs. Thanks Tom for the support :) NS

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