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School board members were hesitant to get involved in what they saw as City issue

TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - School board members spent plenty of time listening to the City Council and residents about parking problems at West Linn High School, but they would not commit to taking action on what they saw as a City issue. Near the close of a 90-minute discussion between the West Linn City Council and West Linn-Wilsonville School Board Monday, April 16, regarding parking at West Linn High School, City Council President Brenda Perry laid out a series of possible next steps for both bodies and proposed meeting again at a later date.

"Does that work for everybody?" Perry asked.

A long pause followed.

"I'm seeing blank faces," Perry said.

Indeed, after spending much of the work session at City Hall listening to city councilors and members of the public detail the parking situation and their proposed solutions for it, the four members of the school board who attended (Dylan Hydes was absent) were reticent to dive into what they believed to be a City issue.

"I actually see it as outside my role and usurping your responsibilities to tell you how you should utilize your public streets," school board member Regan Molatore said. "That's why I'm reserved and quiet on that, because that's not my comfort zone. ... As a district, we would love to partner with you, but I can't tell you how to solve parking on your streets."

The joint meeting was long in the making; it was nearly a year ago that students Rory Bialostosky and Ben Carr appeared before the council to advocate for changes to the 1995 city ordinance that requires a residential permit to park on most streets near the high school. The council took action with a resolution later in 2017, but only to reinforce the existing parking ordinance and close several loopholes that were discovered in the debates that followed the students' appeal for change.

But the council wasn't done with the issue. Shortly after the resolution passed, high school students on the City's own Youth Advisory Board were asked to look into the high school parking dilemma and come back with data about the extent of the problem and recommendations for how to solve it. The council also requested a meeting with the school board, and after several delays that meeting was scheduled for April 16.

Enrollment at WLHS is 1,870, and the estimated total number of parking lot and street spaces at the high school is 423 — a number that meets the standards of the school's Conditional Use Permit but falls well short of what is needed to accommodate students and staff, according to students. The YAC's recommendation to the council in March was to modify the residential zone to allow for parking on one side of the streets around the school, which was projected to open up between 166 and 175 spaces. An additional 58 spaces could also open up on the Broadway and West A Street bridges, pending approval of a City proposal to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).

Before the school board and City Council began their discussion Monday, several residents and students shared competing messages during public testimony. While students and some adult residents spoke in favor of the City opening up more parking, residents who live near the school continued to emphasize safety and livability concerns if additional spaces were to be opened up on the streets.

Save for a few clarifying questions and remarks, school board members then ceded the floor to their hosts, who threw out a wide array of potential solutions while emphasizing that the City and school district should work together on the problem.TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - One school board member, Dylan Hydes, endorsed the Youth Advisory Council's proposal to open up parking on one side of residential streets.

City Councilor Rich Sakelik suggested the addition of additional bus routes to better accommodate extracurricular schedules, and asked about the possibility of finding areas on school grounds where more parking could be provided. He and City Councilor Teri Cummings also spoke at length about their recent visit to Forest Grove, where they took a tour using the free GroveLink public transit service that is run by Tri-Met.

"We took the bus on the whole route, which was about an hour, and while we were on about 10 or 15 students came on," Sakelik said. "They said they liked it. They don't use it every day; it's variable, but that system is incredibly effective."

Sakelik said the City of Forest Grove made an initial investment of $400,000 to purchase the shuttles and provides office space and parking, but Tri-Met handles all other ongoing costs of the service.

"What would it be like to get rid of all the buses for the high school and provide a shuttle with certain routes?" Sakelik said. "It might be more cost effective and more beneficial for students."

Mayor Russ Axelrod, meanwhile, wondered if there were ways to more effectively share the reserved spaces at the school lots. He also suggested that a segment of the parking lot at Wilderness Park — which is just uphill from the high school — could be cordoned off for students.

"I've never seen much of a parking demand in that space," Axelrod said. "It's close — only a five minute walk down the sidewalk (on Skyline Drive) we built for that very purpose."

Perry complimented the YAC's work while also suggesting that the City work more with residents in the area.

"Lots of residents are not using the spaces in front of their homes during the day, because they go to work," Perry said.

Yet the council made clear that it was too early to make any decisions, and more information would be needed before that could happen. In particular, the council emphasized the importance of future enrollment projections, which the School District hopes to have by the fall.

Cummings also suggested that the City and school district form a committee of between 12 and 15 people with a professional mediator to further evaluate the problem.

While absent from the meeting, Hydes submitted a memo to the City Council and school district outlining his support for the YAC's plan. The rest of the school board, meanwhile, was hesitant to make commitments.

"(The issue) has not been on our board agenda," School Board Chair Ginger Fitch said. "It can get put on the agenda, but there's a sense (that) it would be helpful to know, 'Where do we need to work together?'"

School District Superintendent Kathy Ludwig added that the school buses operate in one synchronized fleet each morning, thus precluding the possibility of earlier or later high school buses. The school district recently added two afternoon activity buses that leave campus at 5 p.m., but Ludwig said use has been scarce so far.

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