La Paloma Resident Refutes Desert Leaf Article Claims

RE: La Paloma Tries to Block One Route to New Early Childhood Learning Center

It is my understanding that you are a free-lance feature writer for the Desert Leaf, not a journalist. If this is true, it explains, in part, the one-sided, clearly biased position you expressed in the April 2007 issue of the Desert Leaf.

You presented only the Catalina Foothills School District's side of the Campo Abierto issue and conveniently ignored the La Paloma Property Owners Association's standing in the matter. Accordingly, your article is replete with misrepresentations, half-truths and utter falsehoods. As residents of La Paloma, we do not appreciate being characterized as self-absorbed ignoramuses, so I thought it would be useful to you to acquaint you with certain additional facts.

In 1994, Catalina Foothills School District (CFSD) condemned the property that is now the site of the early childhood center and, in addition, made a $20,000 payment to the La Paloma Property Owners Association to opt out of membership in the Association. CFSD's purpose was to avoid application of La Paloma's CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions). On the east side of their property, the only access CFSD requested in 1994 was for local students to be allowed to walk to the school CFSD planned to build on their property. (See Stipulated Judgment #293276 issued by Judge Gordon T. Alley in 1994). By avoiding La Paloma's CC&Rs, CFSD avoided for 13 years the payment of dues and assessments required of La Paloma's property owners, including the cost and maintenance of the traffic light at Sunrise and Campo Abierto purchased and paid for by La Paloma. Now CFSD claims they have the same rights of any La Paloma Property Owner, including the use of Campo Abierto, a private street owned by La Paloma Property Owners.

On December 12, 2006, I attended CFSD's Board Meeting and read the following statement that strongly objects, for safety reasons only, to the use of Campo Abierto by the early childhood center.

"I recently found out that Catalina Foothills School District plans to use Campo Abierto, the roadway on which the West Gate is located, as the main entrance and exit to its new Early Childhood Development Center. I am here to strongly object to this use of Campo Abierto, which is a private road, by the School District. I would like to make it clear that I have no objection to the Center itself. It is only the improper and unsafe use of Campo Abierto that I wish to talk about.

First, Campo Abierto is the only entrance and exit permitted to La Paloma for tradesmen and contractors who provide services to residents of La Paloma. All delivery trucks as well as UPS, Federal Express and US Postal Service vehicles are required to use the Campo Abierto/West Gate entrance and exit. School buses must also use this entrance and exit. I have been informed by the supervisor of our security guard service that an average of 90 to 100 non-resident vehicles are logged in between the hours of 6 AM and 10:00 AM every day of the week at the Campo Abierto/West Gate entrance. Most of these are commercial vehicles. Added to that are the vehicles of residents who continually arrive and leave La Paloma by the West Gate at higher than normal volumes during that time of day. In short, Campo Abierto is a very busy short roadway even today. The School District's plan to use Campo Abierto as the primary entrance and exit to the Center will easily double the volume of traffic on this small roadway even when the Center serves 120 students, plus faculty and staff. This would create a traffic nightmare. Matters would get even worse when the Center is expanded to serve 200 students. Second, we have many senior citizens living in La Paloma. Unfortunately, at times, emergency vehicles need to use Campo Abierto, a two-lane roadway with no shoulders. Traffic congestion on this roadway at any time of the day could delay emergency vehicles. And, as you know, a delay of even a few minutes could mean the difference between life and death.

Finally, I would like to express my disappointment that Catalina Foothills School District chose to communicate with the former president of the La Paloma Master Association and the former president of the La Paloma Condominium Association (who moved away in December 2005) regarding its plans for the Center rather than with me and the other residents of La Paloma, especially those residents who live near the West Gate and use it regularly. If you had, I don't think I would feel the need to be here tonight."

In your recent article, you stated that, "Pima County officials have encouraged the district to also provide access from Campo Abierto on the east as the 'preferred access'." I do not believe this is a fair characterization of the issue. I have read a copy of a memorandum dated June 26, 2006, from Albert Letzkus of the Pima County Department of Transportation to Priscilla Cornelio of the Department of Transportation summarizing the results of his review of a "Traffic Impact Study for Catalina Foothills School District Early Childhood Center." The Traffic Impact Study (TIS) assumes, by the way, a total enrollment of 120 students while it was known at the time that eventual enrollment would be 200 students. The fifth paragraph of Mr. Letzkus memo states "(a)lthough the TIS did not recommend either of the options as the preferred option, we recommend that the report be modified to include the 'preferred' access option as the 'with Campo Abierto' option. This option has the significant advantage of allowing drivers exiting from the site, who wish to drive east on Sunrise, to make their left-turn at the signalized intersection of Sunrise and Campo Abierto. The LT's made at this signal will be much quicker and easier than making LT's at the Sunrise/Skyline intersection. However, the complicating factor with this option is that Campo Abierto is a private street -- negotiations would have to be made with that HOA that controls this roadway. If any discussions have been held among the school district, the consultant firm, and the HOA, reference should be made to the discussions in the TIS report."

Mr. Letzkus' memorandum was, unfortunately, issued late in the planning process. To the best of my knowledge, the TIS has not been modified to incorporate Mr. Letzkus recommendation nor have the independent traffic engineers who prepared the study evaluated Mr. Letzkus recommendation. Mr. Letzkus' memorandum, moreover, does not mention that there is only room in the left turn lane on Campo Abierto for two automobiles (and even fewer trucks), so it is not difficult to imagine the traffic jams that would accumulate four times a day as school parents' autos are added to the present traffic that waits and waits and waits for the light at Sunrise to turn green. Also missing from Mr. Letzkus' memorandum is an evaluation of school parents' using Skyline Drive to proceed east from the Center. Nevertheless, CFSD's administrators hopped on Mr. Letzkus' recommendation late in the development process and decided it was something they absolutely had to have.

Now, CFSD's administrators and board members want to use Campo Abierto so badly that they have begun eminent domain proceedings to buy the street from the La Paloma Property Owners Association. If CFSD is successful, the substantial cost of purchasing and modifying the street, possibly $2,000,000 or more, does not seem to be an exercise of good judgment. Given the problems and alternatives associated with the use of Campo Abierto set forth in the previous paragraph, spending an additional $2,000,000 or more of taxpayers' money for an unnecessary exit from a $4,000,000 early childhood center project does not seem to be sensible to me. It hardly fits any reasonable notion that CFSD's board and administration are being "good stewards of the public taxpayer funds that our district's voters approved to pay for this early learning center" as they claimed in their letter to La Paloma dated February 14, 2007.

Another relatively simple solution which has already been suggested, but totally ignored by CFSD, is for Pima County to install a traffic light at the intersection of Skyline and Sunrise. I understand the cost would be between $150,000-$200,000. Mr. Huckelberry seems to think this may be a good idea because he recently asked Pima County's traffic engineers to study the possibility of a light at Skyline and Sunrise.

Contrary to the apparent misimpression Ms. Siegler and Ms. Kamerzell think we have, let me make it clear that I know the early childhood learning center is not a for-profit facility. It is a nonprofit "cooperation," whatever that is, between Catalina Foothills Community Schools and the District's Special Education Department. But wait. It does not end there. The parents of the children attending the center (except, possibly, for the special needs children) pay tuition based on the amount of time the children spend there; the tuition rates, however, are less than half the tuition charged in, for example, the Atlanta area where our daughter lives. This made me curious, and my curiosity led me to the knowledge that CFSD does not charge rent to the early childhood center for use of the new facility financed by taxpayer-approved bonds. I think Ms. Siegler and Ms. Kamerzell owe the citizens of CFSD an explanation as to why this practice represents their being "good stewards of the public taxpayer funds."

Both my husband and I believe the public education system is one of the most important and critically necessary institutions in our country. We will continue to support good, thoughtful public education policy and practices. I believe, however, the self-centered, obsessive, unnecessary and hubristic insistence on a Campo Abierto-based exit from the new early childhood center should be carefully reconsidered.

Sincerely,

Lise Soares