Guest Opinion: LBUSD Facility Open House, Not That Open

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By Steve McIntosh

After the public complained of being left out of the process, the Laguna Beach Unified School District held an “Open House” at the High School to present the $150 million Giant Facilities Project to neighbors and concerned citizens. Attended by nearly 200 people, the event was framed in a way to prevent three of the five decision-making school board members from attending, citing it would be a Brown Act violation for all to be there. However, in the district’s own by-laws and in the Brown Act itself, there are at least three exemptions where all five board members could have attended without issue. This event could have been easily set up under any of those, according to attorneys and many people with board and city council experience. 

With such a monumental project at hand, we at SensibleLaguna.org have been insisting for weeks that all board members be there to hear what the public has to say in an exchange and discussion format about other alternatives, options and justifications. Didn’t really happen. 

While the district did throw out a few new ideas reducing the scale of the project, which is encouraging, the presentation was unorganized, and most people told us they left more confused and angrier than ever. Poster boards on easels were set up around the room. A couple of the architect reps and a few district employees stood around trying to explain the “plan” style drawings without justifications or valid reasons for such a massive proposal. (I know they got an earful from some of the attendees!) None wore name tags, and there was no way for anyone to know who to talk to for answers. Various renderings were also displayed but with no real link to the applicable drawings. It was a jumbled mess. Rumor has it that another meeting will be on May 23, open for discussion and actual exchange of ideas. We hope.

The need for a 50-meter pool has already been proven to NOT be needed for a CIF High School or college swimming or water polo (see Steve Brown’s letter to the editor in the Indy). The upkeep and maintenance costs are significantly more than 35, 38 or 40 m pools, which can easily fit in the existing pool space. 

Research shows a much different process for large school district improvement projects than what has happened here. Other districts have demonstrated an approach that is labeled essential by the California Department of Education). https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/fa/bp/documents/masterplans.pdf

The Process Used to Develop a Facilities Master Plan:

“FMPs should be developed with a wide range of community stakeholders to ensure that multiple perspectives are included. Many districts find community workshops beneficial…”

This document encourages and shows that a huge amount of community involvement early in the process is the norm, not this late in the game. The committee for this project appears to have been made up of Superintendent Viloria, the assistant superintendent, principals, district employees, two board members, architect employees and a SchoolPower member or two. Hardly a wide range of community stakeholders! At the Special Facilities Meeting in Sept. of 2022, a board member suggested getting neighbors on the committee, and Superintendent Viloria said “no.”

Citizens of Laguna are left scratching their heads at the cost and scale of this project and its huge ripple effect on the neighborhood and community. They are asking why the board of education (who actually live in town) would allow something like this to get this much traction to get to this point in the process. And they also ask, what about spending the money on actual education? 

Lastly, it’s ironic and scary that the very people that are responsible for education couldn’t seem to find a way “educate” the public on this massive project. 

That doesn’t make sense. 

Steve is a husband, father, retired 41-year resident of Laguna Beach and co-founder of SensibleLaguna.org – working to find a good common sense, factual solution for all.

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