Although not likely to be quite as colorful or town-changing as the MTV reality show, Laguna Beach school board meetings will soon go live.
The Laguna Beach Unified School District board voted 3-1 Tuesday to stream public meetings online. The board approved $50,000 for equipment and technology for live-stream-webcasting and archiving school board meetings on the district’s website. Board member Carol Normandin was absent and Bill Landsiedel cast the dissenting vote.
The decision fulfils a campaign promise made by newly elected school board members Dee Perry and Normandin to push for more transparency and public access to board proceedings. Perry brought the request to her colleagues in January.
“We’re trying to bring our school district…up to world-class technology,” said Perry. “We’re not walking the talk of where we’re trying to get.” The system can also be used to resolve legal issues because of its visual and verbatim record, Perry said.
Following suggestions made by residents, the school board asked district staff to research the system used by the Laguna Beach City Council, among other possibilities.
Money spent on the system would be better spent on education, said Landsiedel. “I don’t hear any outcry for this,” he said. “I don’t hear anybody except for a handful of people who say we need this. Taxpayers didn’t elect me to squander their money. This squanders money.”
Kathleen Fay, high school PTA president, said it was a “dreadful” idea, saying the district needs to put kids first instead of spending money on “political grandstanding.”
Video-taping school board meetings was an idea that started in the mid-1980s, said long-time board member Jan Vickers. “I can’t tell you why it fell through,” she said. “I would hope that if people saw how a meeting functions, they’d be more involved.”
The system will cost $50,000 to install, which will include three cameras, preview monitor, wired microphones and online streaming and archives, according to a report by Michael Morrison, the district’s chief technology officer. Ongoing costs are estimated at $6,000 a year for the Granicus web-hosting and archiving system, says the report. Granicus is used by 1,200 clients, including school districts in Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles and Pasadena.
Hiring someone to operate the system was put off to a later meeting. The district currently audio-records meetings, which are not immediately available online.
“The strongest argument I can make,” said resident Howard Hills, a well-known critic of board procedures, “is that, if there’s a video system, I don’t have to come here so often. I can stay home and watch on TV as I do with the city council. Perhaps that’s the greatest incentive I could offer.”
Eucalyptus Trees Gotta Go
In another highly debated issue, the district voted 3-1, with Jan Vickers dissenting, to remove 28 recently planted eucalyptus trees from a slope surrounding the athletic field. The trees, which were planted last year, will be removed due to neighbors’ complaints about potential view obstruction and fire hazards.
Removing the trees will cost $3,000, said Jeff Dixon, district facilities director. The majority of the $134,000 the district spent to plant the new landscaping is for maintenance and irrigation, he said. Replacing the trees with other plants, such as shrubs and groundcover, will cost from $6,000 to $10,000, he added.
With ocean views a valuable asset to beach-town property owners, residents and board members chastised Ann Christoph, the local landscape architect hired to design the slope, for suggesting tall-growing trees like eucalyptus and native coast-live oak. She worked under Landscape Support Services, of Sherman Oaks, which won the bid to implement her plan and didn’t change it, said Dixon.
“Height of trees has always been an issue,” said resident and parent Sheri Morgan. For the landscaper not to consider height was surprising, she said. Getting people involved in the decision-making process prior to a problem might resolve these types of conflicts, she pointed out to the board.
Christoph, who did not attend the meeting, said in an earlier interview that the contractor had forbid her from talking to nearby neighbors about the plans. On Wednesday, she said she planted eucalyptus trees to assuage residents upset about the large trees that had been removed. “So I put some tall trees back.” She said 10 eucalyptus trees were in her design. “That’s not a lot of trees for a 60,000-square-foot area,” she said.
Christoph said she was shocked that the district did not inform her of the agenda item and that she would have been willing to defend herself. “I thought the district would keep me informed of what was happening with the project I’ve been working on so I could continue to be the landscape architect for this project,” she said.
There are tall eucalyptus trees all around the high school, said Christoph. “It won’t be the district’s trees causing this problem, if there is a problem,” she said.
Landsiedel wondered why trees that can grow over 50 feet high were found acceptable when resident’s view concerns are well-known. “We can’t let neighbors run the school district but there’s a sensitivity here,” he said.
Replacing the trees with other low-growing trees or plants will be decided at a later meeting, as suggested by Dean West, assistant superintendent of business services. He said nothing will be replaced until neighbors are consulted.
Kathleen Fay was quoted in the May 16 article “School Board Meetings to Go Live” as president of the Laguna Beach High School PTA. Her comment represented her own views, not those of the organization.