By Sue Pascoe
After the Brentwood School expansion plan was approved by the City Planning Commission in November, Councilman Mike Bonin sent a December email to constituents about Sunset traffic:
“I have made a simple but absolutely essential commitment to you: I will not support any project along the Sunset Corridor unless it reduces traffic on Sunset Boulevard.”
“I call it the ‘Sunset Standard,’ and it is how I plan to move forward in a real and meaningful way on reducing the maddening, choking traffic on Sunset Boulevard,” Bonin wrote. “Through my Sunset Traffic Improvement Initiative, I am working with you and your neighbors to explore every strategy available to us to relieve congestion on Sunset. This is the lens through which I consider all Sunset projects, and it is my central focus as I consider Brentwood School’s current proposal to enhance its campuses.”
On Nov. 17, the City Planning Commission recommended approval of the Brentwood School Master Plan, which proposes four phases of construction through the year 2040.
If the master plan is ultimately approved by the city, the East Campus, located at Sunset and Barrington Place, will have construction in all four phases from 2017 to 2040. The West Campus, located at Sunset and Bundy Drive, has activity in Phase I, 2017 to 2020 and Phase III, 2030 to 2034.
By 2020, projected enrollment will increase from 695 to 960 students on the East Campus, along with increased staff. The floor area of this campus will increase by 44,300 new square feet, with 43,660 sq. ft. of existing buildings demolished and 287,960 sq. ft. of new buildings.
The primary construction traffic route (for equipment and soil hauling and construction workers) for the East Campus is through the VA property to Wilshire Boulevard or Sepulveda Boulevard. If the VA does not approve that route, then construction traffic will use Sunset to and from the I-405.
The sixth-grade class, currently at the West Campus, will move to East Campus, which will then contain the newly-constructed middle school. Those 64 students will be replaced at the West Campus, keeping that population the same.
At a public hearing on October 6, the project was opposed by the Brentwood Community Council, the Sunset Coalition and the Brentwood Hills Homeowners’ As- sociation. Traffic was a major concern.
Traffic was also emphasized on the Brentwood School website, which noted that over 100 school supporters attended the Hearing Examiner meeting.
“As anticipated, most of the concerns expressed at the Hearing were about traffic.
Therefore, messages about our increased transportation requirements and how they will decrease traffic would be appreciated. If any of the following apply to you, please be sure to note them in your personal email: 1.) you are a resident of 90049; 2.) your family uses alternate forms of transportation, such as walking, biking, or public transportation options; 3.) you believe that mandatory busing is not the answer to the Sunset Corridor traffic problem; and 4.) you or your child drives more students to school this year than last.”
Additionally, Brentwood School hired lobbyists from Armbruster Goldsmith & Delvac, who contacted city Council (including districts and committees), Planning Department and other city officials.
(Public records show that over four years, Brentwood spent more than $377,103 on city lobbyists, all of which is legal. In 2013, it spent $33,0252; in 2014 it spent $94,986; in 2015 it spent $154,378; and in the first three quarters of 2016 the school spent $94,485.)
According to Brentwood School’s December 2015 Environmental Impact Report, “The Project traffic would result in a significant impact at the following three intersections during peak hours: Church Lane and Sunset Boulevard (morning peak hour); I-405 northbound on/off ramp and Sunset Boulevard (morning peak hour); and Montana Avenue and Barrington Avenue (evening peak hour).”
The LADOT says that “these intersections are currently constructed to their maximum lane capacity and are updated with detector loops, video cameras and signal controller boxes. As such, no physical mitigation or improvements are available to further improve the Level of Service at these impacted intersections.”
The report also noted that “the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvement Project will be completed before the Brentwood School would increase enrollment beginning in 2017.”
In its recommendation, the City Planning Commission acknowledges that Brentwood School is one of many contributors to the existing traffic congestion in the area, but that the school could grow without increasing traffic. The report says, “Including all vehicle trips to and from the campus, not just those involving student commuters, results in a future scenario with 1,521 trips for 960 students, or 1.58 trips per student, which is 28 percent lower than the existing rate of 1,521 trips for 695 students, or 2.19 trips per student.”
In his December letter, Bonin wrote: “The City Planning Commission agreed with my requirement that Brentwood School meet my Sunset Standard to reduce traffic as part of its application. The CPC decision means that Brentwood School will reduce its traffic by 12.5 percent on day one, and by 40 percent by 2020.”
Although the requirement was not in the recommendation, Bonin’s spokesperson David Graham-Caso told the News that a determination letter had been sent with those numbers and “The letter is part of what the Council is considering.”
Brentwood School would be required to maintain bus usage at 20 percent of the enrollment. The school would distribute information to parents explaining the carpool program, including parent-driven carpools to have a minimum of three students in each vehicle and restrict student-driven carpools to four or more students in each vehicle.
One of the conditions imposed was that Brentwood School would have to prepare an East Campus Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Plan to achieve a zero net increase in school-related vehicle trips during peak hours. This expanded TDM Plan would be submitted to LADOT for review and approval.
By contrast, Archer School, in an earlier agreement (June 2015), is required to “Utilize vans/buses to transport 70 percent of the student enrollment” and “a maximum of 15 student-driven carpools consisting of three students in each vehicle with additional carpools permitted consisting of four or more students in each vehicle.”
The Planning Commission report regarding its Brentwood School decision states: “Despite the proximity of the two schools, the traffic management requirements of the Brentwood School and the Archer School for Girls are unique. Archer’s expansion plan involved no increase in enrollment, but a substantial increase in the athletic and performing arts facilities on campus. Furthermore, Archer’s campus is more closely integrated with the surrounding residential neighborhood, and thus the purpose of the conditions was to control both traffic and noise.
“The Brentwood School’s expansion, on the other hand, is concentrated away from the residential neighbors and is focused instead primarily on restricting traffic while maintaining the noise restrictions near its residential neighbors similar to existing conditions.”
The report says that “Council District 11 staff expressed support for the project, but would only support the project if it reduced traffic, under what they referred to as the ‘Sunset Standard,’ based on the Archer School for Girls expansion project approved in 2015.”
“The CPC ruling will most likely be appealed to the City Council, leading to further discussions of the project,” Bonin wrote. “I am, and will continue to be, actively engaged to ensure a project that meets the needs of both the school and the community, allowing Brentwood School to modernize and continue providing a world-class education to its students while doing its part to alleviate the terrible traffic that plagues our neighborhood.
“Reducing traffic on Sunset is a monumental challenge, but it’s one that I know we can achieve by taking one crucial step at a time,” Bonin continued. “By working together to solve tough problems, we’ll make this project a shining example of what is possible in Brentwood. We’ll make a real difference in reducing Sunset traffic, and we’ll continue our work to make Brentwood a wonderful place to live and learn for generations to come.”
The 357-page City Recommendation Report can be found at http://planning.lacity.org/StaffRpt/InitialRpts/CPC-2015-3720.pdf.
As a side note, Caruso also used the same lobbyist for the third and fourth quarter 2016, specifically for Palisades Village 15261-15281 W. Sunset. For the third quarter, those lobbyists spoke to officials in public works and engineering and Caruso paid the firm $35,133. All legal.