The Archer School for Girls is a great school in the wrong location, as it has been since 1998.
Council member Mike Bonin said it best last year: “Archer is a world-class institution in a terribly complex location.” But the Archer Forward expansion proposal “would cause more traffic and congestion, and detrimental impacts to neighbors, making it a bad fit for Brentwood and the surrounding communities.” He called for major changes in the school’s expansion plan.
The Archer Forward proposal to block traffic for years and expand the school is “clearly not right for our neighborhoods,” and also “not right” for Archer’s own future students.
Great for Retired Shriners – but for Hundreds of Students?
The very scope of Archer Forward proves that the school’s site on Sunset was and remains inadequate for both a secondary school and a high school.
Otherwise Archer would not “need” such a massive construction project, involving 130,000 construction vehicle round trips, just to serve its current enrollment.
Either the old Eastern Star Home for retired Shriners was an appropriate and adequate location for this school in 1998, in which case Archer Forward is not a “need,” but simply a “want”; or the site was inappropriate and inadequate then, and needs massive expansion now to correct that error on Archer’s part.
Archer already has a waiting list, and its graduates already get into the best colleges. So what exactly is the “need”?
Problems with the Current Archer School Site on Sunset
Here is the unique constellation of problems with the current Archer site on Sunset Boulevard:
- The site is far too small for both a secondary school and a high school. Even now, the campus for hundreds of students is only 7.0 acres. This includes the residential areas on which Archer proposes to expand. And the front 20% is foreclosed from modernization because it is designated as a historic site. That status forced Archer to propose large excavations and construction on the rearmost part of the property, very near the quiet residences on Chaparal Street – in awkward conflict with the normal rules regarding development on residential lots.
- The California Department of Education’s Guide to School Site Analysis and Development states that a sixth- through eighth-grade school of 151 to 300 students would need approximately 7 acres.
- A ninth- through twelfth-grade high school of up to 400 students would need almost 20 acres.
- Because Archer’s Middle and Upper Schools can use some of the same facilities, Archer’s total need would not be 27 acres. But it’s apparent that a proper double-school campus would require far more than 7 acres, even with the anticipated investment of $80-$100 million.
- By comparison, Curtis School, Lycée Français, and Brentwood School lease 22 acres offsite just for athletic uses.
- Archer’s property is 91% surrounded by residences (including those houses immediately across the small local roads, Chaparal and N. Barrington) – unlike any other school on the Westside. Over a hundred residents live within close earshot of Archer’s athletic fields.
- Archer’s only access is via Sunset Boulevard – one of the most congested arterials on the Westside. To make matters worse, the great majority of its students (and the parents who drive them) live to the east of the 405 Freeway. But, no one can turn east from the Archer driveway during weekday afternoons and evenings. Sunset is simply too congested already.
- The Archer driveway is just yards away from THE chokepoint on Sunset: Barrington Avenue. Council Member Mike Bonin correctly called it “THE chokepoint” at a meeting of Brentwood Homeowners’ Association.
- Archer now contends that its onsite parking is inadequate – Yet Archer itself is the party that requested and received a variance in 1998 to park FEWER vehicles onsite than the code would require.
- Now, to allow up to 251 vehicles to park onsite, Archer wants to impose the burden on its residential neighbors, and commuters who use Sunset, while Archer excavates and constructs a large underground garage – which Archer wants to do in order to solve a problem of its own making.
Archer failed to consider alternative sites, as law requires
Given the roster of problems unique to Archer’s current location, and the massive amount of money available to Archer, shouldn’t Archer consider alternative sites?
On June 26, neighbors offered Archer a matching grant of up to $100,000 to co-fund a search for an alternative site for the school.
Failure to consider alternative sites is a violation of both California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and common sense. And it opens the door to litigation.
Consideration of alternative sites is specifically required by the CEQA Guidelines: “The key question and first step in analysis is whether any of the significant effects of the project would be avoided or substantially lessened by putting the project in another location.” (CEQA Guidelines §15126.6.)
The most glaring deficiency in Archer’s submissions to the City is the absence of any meaningful consideration of less burdensome “alternatives” that would include:
- alternative locations for its varsity softball and soccer games (many other schools have those off campus);
- alternative locations for its theater and other performances (ditto);
- alternative locations for a portion of its school, such as a separate campus for the Archer Middle School (ditto); and
- alternative locations for Archer School as a whole (as did Curtis School and other excellent, growing schools).
If Archer would pursue such alternatives, it would not need to settle for a much-reduced project, or a condition prohibiting any increase in enrollment for the next twenty years.