BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
A new campus for an East Palo Alto school proposed by Mark Zuckerberg’s wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan is running into headwinds from officials who are worried it will siphon students from the city’s Ravenswood City School District.
“I’m really excited about the model of the school, and I’m thrilled that our children will be getting a world-class education locally at what looks to be a world-class facility,” said Commissioner Ofelia Bello at a Dec. 10 Planning Commission meeting. “But I am disheartened at our disinvestment of Ravenswood.”
However, the purpose of the meeting was to review a draft environmental impact report, or EIR, for the proposed school at 1200 Weeks St. And the law requiring the EIR, the California Environmental Quality Act, doesn’t pertain to how such a project would effect a school district. Chan, the wife of the billionaire founder and CEO of Facebook, did not appear at the hearing.
Still, residents are concerned because the Ravenswood district has been hemorrhaging students due to low test scores, and many of those families have fled to the six charter and private schools in the city.
Chan’s school, called the Primary School, has been open since 2016, operating out of trailers across the street from the Ravenswood Family Health Center at 1885 Bay Road.
The school bought 3.5 acres on Weeks Street a few years ago, but has not been able to build there because of a development moratorium due to a water shortage.
The shortage has since ended after the city bought Mountain View’s rights to 1 million gallons of water a day and was given 500,000 gallons daily in water rights from Palo Alto. That’s opened the door to development in East Palo Alto again.
The Primary School, along with the Sobrato Organization and the developer of an office project at 2020 Bay Road, paid a cumulative $1.53 million to help the city buy some of Mountain View’s water supply.
Chan hopes to enroll 511 students from preschool through middle school.
While some at the meeting were concerned about the impact the school will have on Ravenswood, others, such as Commissioner Kyra Brown and project neighbor Maria Cabrerra, said they’re worried about the toxins in the dirt that will be disturbed by the construction. The soil where the school is proposed was contaminated by previous industrial owners.
But Primary School President Meredith Liu said the school will be “cleaning up” the land prior to construction in order to make sure the land is suitable for a school.
But Cabrerra said she was worried that when the contaminated soil is removed, neighbors would suffer from airborne toxins.
Another neighbor, Kevin Keating, said he was concerned about the traffic created by the 70 employees and 511 students. The site is on a cul-de-sac.
Keating asked that the school consider busing students.
Liu said they’re not planning to bus students, but instead will have staggered drop-off times, giving parents an hour window to drop off or pick up a child.
Anyone who wishes to provide a comment on the draft environmental impact report can submit it by Jan. 6. After that, the final environmental impact report will be completed, and the Planning Commission and the city council will likely review the full project mid-2019.