Monday, April 30, 2007

The Public Road to Mary Star High School

I need your help on what may be an extremely important "community benefit" concerning the Ponte Vista at San Pedro development and the new Mary Star of the Sea High School.

Background; To the best of my current knowledge, this is how access to the new high school campus east of the Ponte Vista site was approved of when the Federal Government still owned the land what we now call Ponte Vista at San Pedro.

During construction of the new Mary Star of the Sea High School campus, all traffic would use access to the site via the public, Taper Avenue route. All vehicles could use Gaffey Street, west to Westmont Avenue, then north on Taper Avenue, and onto the site.

When the Federal Government still owned the land now owned by Bob Bisno, there was an agreement struck that allowed for access through the property using S. John Montgomery Drive, when the school was opened to students, in September, 2007. I recently found out that access to the opened school would also be allowed for members of the faculty, staff, deliveries, and visitors, through the southeastern access at Taper Avenue.

Students to the new campus would be required to use the access from Western Avenue, that, when construction was approved of, was S. John Montgomery. Students would not have the option of avoiding Western Avenue, but members of the faculty, staff, deliveries, and visitors would continue to have the option of not having to travel on any portion of Western, if they chose to use Gaffey Street, instead.

Things change.

Bob Bisno acquired the 61.53 acres of land the Federal Government sold. Included on the land is S. John Montgomery Drive. That road has become part of private property now owned by Bob Bisno.

Bob Bisno wishes to change the current zoning of R1 and, as a "community benefit", would provide a public road from Western Avenue to the new campus, without cost to the new school.

The problem with that "community benefit" is that Bob believes he would only be required to provide the new road if the current zoning of the property is changed to what he wants which is, specific plan zoning. This change of zoning would allow him to build 2,300 condominiums along Western Avenue and points to the east.

Bob also contends that he could NOT be required to build a road to the new campus if the property were to remain with its current zoning. Betsy Weisman, the head of L.A. City Planning for the area claims that he might be required to supply the access, but Bob disagrees with that.

No matter what happens with a road from Western, the new campus would still be allowed access to certain drivers via Taper Avenue.

I believed, and I think many others may have been led to believe that Taper Avenue would be closed off to all access to the new campus once either S. John Montgomery or a new road from Western was utilized. During the course of the meetings of the Community Advisory Committee, two members of that group had full knowledge of the agreement between the school and the neighborhood, concerning the access issues involving both the neighborhood and the new school.

I probably should have known much earlier about the arrangement struck between the neighborhood and the school. I, and many others I feel, slipped up on our responsibility to fully understand the agreement, because it does impact the Ponte Vista project. It would have been both nice and correct for the two members of the CAC who knew of the agreement, to fully disclose it, during the prior months of the CAC's existence.

Bob contends he is under no obligation to build an access road to Mary Star through HIS property, if it remains R1 zoning. I am glad I am not a taxpayer living in the City of Los Angeles, if and when Bob brings a lawsuit against the city, if it tries to require him to build a road to the new campus over R1 zoned land.

I need your help with your knowledge and opinions. If anyone knows where I can find precedent for a landowner to be required to provide access to property he/she does not own, but already has public road access to that site, please let me know.

I need your opinions in this matter, too. What do you think about a school and neighborhood that would agree to allow older, more experienced drivers to have the option of avoiding Western Avenue, but require students, the less experienced and younger drivers, to use Western Avenue, which will already have more traffic on it no matter what zoning is used at Ponte Vista?

Should we have known about the agreements struck when the new campus was approved of? Should we have been informed earlier in the Ponte Vista discussions about this agreement? Do you feel it is right that a neighborhood that has both Western Avenue and Gaffey Street as primary ingress and egress routes, dictate to the rest of us who is required to use Western Avenue?

If Bob Bisno can be required to build an access to the new campus, for Western Avenue, and the Ponte Vista site remain with its current zoning, then all is wonderful, as far as the R Neighborhoods Are 1 supporters and folks who have signed the R1 petition are concerned.

I don't want anyone to get too angry about the deal struck between the school and the neighborhood, but I feel someone should have considered informing all of us closer to the beginning of the discussions about the Ponte Vista project, and its possible impact on the new school.

If you think this post is long, you should see how long my essay is on this subject. Ithink many folks think I am already boring enough.


skip said...

Mr. Wells,

As a resident of the Taper neighborhood I knew as common knowledge of the requirements of the Conditional Use Permit. We all lobbied heavily for the road to Western to keep lead-footed teens from roaring through our neighborhood.

However, I have to agree with you that the people who knew about the requirements should have informed the rest of the CAC. It might have helped move things along.

As far as your other question, I can only offer what I think I know to be true. This comes with the caveat that I am not an attorney. But as far as I know, a municipality CANNOT force ANY landowners to turn over property to another private party. Think of it in the way buying of an odd-shaped, land-locked lot. Unless you can negotiate an easement with your neighbors to get access to the road, you'd better have a helicopter. In most cases, this involves money changing hands. I have first hand experience with this because I tried to buy a lot up in Northern California which was overlooking a beautiful lake named Clearlake. Unfortunately the lot was hemmed in on three sides by steep bluffs leading down to the lake. On the fourth side was another house which was between me and the road. The owner wanted an exorbitant amount for the right to use a part of his property to get to my lot. I had to back out of the escrow. It was disappointing, but also gave me insight into why the lot was so cheap and had remained on the market for so long. I believe the same to be true with Mary Star and Ponte Vista.

Skip Robinson

M Richards said...

Thank you Skip, for your input.

One of the residents who lives in the Westmont portion said that a "secret deal" was worked out between the school supporters and the homeowners. This may be the "secret deal" that most in the Westmont neighborhood had knowledge of.

I think it is fair to think that most of us living in other areas would not have considered the road issue to be important to us. Unfortunately, we all are now having to discuss all of the ramifacations of the Ponte Vista development and what it might mean to the campus.

Your example of what you had to deal with in Northern California helps understand the issue better, I feel.

To the rest of the readers of these comments, Skip and I do not necessarily agree on what should be built at Ponte Vista, but even folks who differ in opinions can discuss matters in better fashion than has been occuring in the past.

Skip, my first name is Mark.
Be well.

skip said...


A couple of things.

First of all, I don't know about a "secret deal" between the Westmont neighborhood and Mary Star. It was all pretty vocal and lots of public meetings were held.

Secondly, all this happened before Bisno was ever on the scene. I don't know how much of it we can lay off on him.

Lastly, it is obvious some sort of deal has been struck between Mary Star and Bisno. I fear that we may never be privy to this information though since it is a contract between private parties and probably tied up with all sorts of confidentiality clauses. We can just hope Bisno tells us what the deal is.

Skip Robinson

M Richards said...

Thanks again Skip,

I think the person who told me about the "secret deal" didn't want the facts your area has known about for some time revealed to the larger area. What was never a secret to many homeowners in your area, may have been considered "secret" by the person who I have been questioning.

I know that all of the dealings between Mary Star and the neighborhood happened some time before Bob popped into the picture. The agreement struck with the folks managing the Navy Housing site was ready and willing to have S. John Montgomery Drive used as the public access route to and from the school. This was settled before anyone probably thought about what could happen if S. John Montgomery became part of totally private property.

I think you are correct about the fact that we may never know the deal struck between the folks supporting Mary Star and the folks at Bisno Development.

I wonder if that deal looked like the deal Bob was trying to do with Eastview Little League. Could Mr. Bisno have "suggested" that some community members support his current plans in order for him to create his "community benefit" of the route to and from Western?

It seems that dealing with Bob Bisno has a price connected to it that OUR community must pay for in one way or another. The families of the Eastview Little League community were asked to fully support Bob's current plans in exchange for his "community benefit" of ball fields that group. Had there been no "suggestion" of support by those families, would Eastview have fields on Western Avenue ready for use by next January?

Whether you want 429 single-family houses, 2,300 condos, or something in between those two extremes, like I do, I feel this development it too important to the future of OUR community to ignore, shorten debate over, or not learn as much as everyone can about all of the issues.

Anonymous said...


Keep in mind, the 1995-97 "Re-Use Committees' " worked a land-use plan dedicating land to Mary Star, VOA, Harbor Medical Research Complex, Kenny Nickelson Foundation.
This plan would not impose the significant traffic load on WESTERN AVENUE that 2,300 private homes, added public school, potential ball parks etc. will otherwise do.

Bisno's private purchase of the property should have been conditioned on providing a road easement allowing Mary Star access other than Taper Ave. But apparently the Taper Avenue area residents were not concerned about the greater use because the deal was.... TAPER AVE. would not be impacted regardless of the degree of use. The contractual parties may end up in court.

M Richards said...

Thank you Anonymous 8:31 PM,

I bet even having only 429 houses and Mary Star in the area would cause more traffic on Western than all of the reuse recommendations made by the reuse committees, combined.

I wonder if the CREF, the organization handling the auction of the property could have conditioned any sale of the land contingent on providing easment for Mary Star from Western.

It looks the group involved in the sale of the land, dropped the ball on this issue.

There may have been an opportunity for the government to deed land for a road easment, but that might have been a problem because the easement would be provided for a religious organization, and that, too may have garnered court proceedings.

I think it is honorable to wish for access to the campus via Western Avenue, but I still don't know if it truly can be achieved if the Ponte Vista site remains with its current zoning, something a growing number of members of the community now seem to demand.