Close to Home: A good charter school project that’s in the right place

The Sebastopol Charter School is a public tuition-free charter school committed to environmental education, sustainability and stewardship - and to the preservation of open space. For the past 20 years, we’ve operated out of a variety of inadequate and temporary facilities that have never been sufficient to hold all of our students on a single site. Three years ago, the school purchased a 20-acre property to the north of town that will finally bring our students together on one campus, and will allow Sebastopol Charter to continue offering an academically and artistically robust public education to the children of Sonoma County.

We couldn’t agree more with those who value open space. That’s why our campus project ensures that a full 10 acres of land will remain undeveloped that would otherwise be subdivided into a multitude of two-acre residential lots. In fact, of the entire 20 acres, less than one will have buildings on it. The vast majority of the site will be dedicated to playgrounds, fields, gardens, orchards and restored native habitat.

But don’t take our word for it. The images below say it all. See for yourself.

A recent Close to Home piece opined that the school campus “drastically weakens the entire concept of” the Sebastopol’s urban growth boundary (“Sonoma County should block charter school project,” Tuesday). Setting aside the apparent underlying jurisdictional confusion of the authors - who seem to assert a controlling city interest into a county project lying not just outside the Sebastopol city limits and UGB but outside even its sphere of influence - it is worth pointing out their failure to mention that Sebastopol’s own general plan defines its UGB as “a line beyond which development will not be allowed, except for public parks and public schools.”

The city itself recognizes the unique importance of public schools and implicitly acknowledges the severe challenge of locating parcels of sufficient size for a school site within an urban center.

Nevertheless, Sebastopol Charter has never asked for an expansion of the city’s UGB and never will.

Sebastopol Charter shares the view that schools should encourage students to walk and bike to school and that campuses should be located where students can safely do just that. The West County Trail runs along the southern edge of the school site, leading from downtown Sebastopol right to our school’s doorstep. School families are thrilled that they will now be able to walk and bike to school along a trail that is beautiful as well as protected from traffic. Parent surveys indicate that more than 40 percent of school families plan to walk or bike more frequently than they do now.

Sebastopol Charter’s campus relocation will not increase car travel to the school but will rather merely alter the flow of it. While traffic studies performed for the project quantifiably determine this, it’s apparent as a matter of common sense: the campus site is just 1.5 miles away from the southernmost of our two current facilities, making the trip to the campus about 1.5 miles longer for the school families who live to the south of town and 1.5 miles shorter for the equal number of families who live to the north. In fact, the unification of our two programs onto a single site will reduce crosstown travel between our existing split facilites by almost 80 trips per day.

The Sebastopol Charter campus isn’t auto-oriented. It’s oriented toward students and their families. It’s oriented towards vibrant public education, toward a love of learning and a love of the world around us.

It’s oriented toward the children of this community who are, cliché or not, not just our pride and our joy but our hope for the future.

Sebastopol Charter School is serious about preserving open space, encouraging walkable places and reducing greenhouse gas generation. Our campus project offers all three of those benefits, while providing students room to play and explore, to discover, to garden, to plant trees and to nurture their own deep love for this fragile planet that is our common home.

Alysson Baker is Sebastopol Charter facilities advisory committee chairwoman. Bob Haroche is president of the Sebastopol Charter Foundation and is a resident of Sebastopol. Baker lives south of Sebastopol, just outside city limits.

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