The 2,860 housing units a regional agency wants Palo Alto to accommodate would "wreak havoc" on the Palo Alto Unified School District, board member Mandy Lowell warned city officials Wednesday.
"We would need to open two to three more schools," Lowell told members of the City/School Liaison Committee Wednesday morning.
Members of the district Board of Education met with City Council members and staff to discuss implications of the new Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) housing allotment and how the district might voice opposition to the allocations, which would be implemented through 2014.
School officials are devising a response to accompany the city's appeal to ABAG to reduce the housing numbers, due by Jan. 18.
Lowell said the district could point out to ABAG that the allocation offers no funding for the impact on city infrastructure, including schools. She asked if an argument could be made that the city doesn't have jurisdiction over schools and thus can't control student needs.
But city Planning and Community Environment Director Steve Emslie said a city cannot reject ABAG's allotment solely on the impact on schools.
Statewide, school enrollment is declining, but those figures don't match Palo Alto's reality, Lowell said. Palo Alto's schools will already have an estimated 500 students above capacity by 2010, according to the city's Comprehensive Plan. Enrollment this fall exceeded the "high" projections demographic consultants presented just a few months ago.
Lowell said ABAG's population-growth projections for Palo Alto equal the growth of the last 10 years.
Emslie said ABAG's numbers are skewed disproportionately against Palo Alto. ABAG projected a population increase of 25 percent, but the highest population growth Palo Alto has had is only 8 percent, he said.
District and city leaders discussed how population impacts on schools could be made more visible in city planning. The city's Comprehensive Plan currently addresses school needs tangentially. It says the district has a substantial over-enrollment problem but does not suggest where schools should be placed or anticipate how housing projects will impact school resources, Lowell said.
"A comprehensive plan is not very comprehensive if it doesn't include school needs," she said.
She asked if it is possible to create a formula that would include impacts on schools when considering new housing, similar to considerations made for parks and other city amenities.
A recent survey found that 66.1 percent of those who purchased a Palo Alto home in 2006 were motivated by quality neighborhoods or schools. Homeowners who purchased their homes solely because of Palo Alto's schools totaled 27.3 percent.
Only 7.4 percent said their purchase was convenient to where they work.
And workers from outlying areas are not rushing to purchase a Palo Alto home, the study found. A full 72 percent moved only a shortdistance, from surrounding communities such as Menlo Park.
Half have children living at home, with an average age of 8.3 years. The survey findings were reported on Oct. 17 by Absolute Mortgage Banking and the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University.
City officials added that student population may also rise from home turnover, as older residents sell to younger families. Emslie said the city is currently working on an assessment of the housing turnover rates from the 1950s to the present.
Resident Bob Moss said the ABAG allocations could also push the school district to reclaim former schools currently leased for other public uses. Turning Cubberley Community Center back into a high school would displace many groups, he noted.
The committee will reconvene Nov. 28 to discuss school-facilities needs separate from housing.
(Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at [email protected])