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New private school upsets neighbors

Hasley Canyon home converted into classrooms

Posted: August 21, 2008 8:08 p.m.
Updated: October 23, 2008 5:01 a.m.
This house on the 30000 block of Hasley Canyon in Castaic is going through renovations in preparation for the future site of the Monticello Prep School. Nearby neighbors are not too keen on the idea of a school. This house on the 30000 block of Hasley Canyon in Castaic is going through renovations in preparation for the future site of the Monticello Prep School. Nearby neighbors are not too keen on the idea of a school.
This house on the 30000 block of Hasley Canyon in Castaic is going through renovations in preparation for the future site of the Monticello Prep School. Nearby neighbors are not too keen on the idea of a school.

Terry Cranert thought he had found the perfect place to relocate his small private school, but that was before his new neighbors discovered his plan to convert a six-bedroom Hasley Canyon home into Monticello Preparatory School.

By the time Castaic residents and members of the Castaic Area Town Council found out about the project, it had already been approved by the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning and the county Fire Department. Cranert is expecting imminent approval from the health and public works departments.

But most of the people in attendance at Wednesday night’s Castaic Area Town Council meeting were not happy about the school, or the fact that they were just finding out about it.

“Here we’re just finding out that someone has just come out to a rural area and decided to turn a home into a school, and everything’s already been approved,” Councilman Bob Lewis said.

Council members were upset that they had not been notified about the school project, but John Gutwein of the Department of Regional Planning, who was also at the meeting, told them that this particular case did not require public notification.

“The reason we did not come to you is because there is no community notification and no town council notification required in this case,” Gutwein said. “We have approved the conversion of the home and the garage to a school. It’s a use that is allowed in that zone.”

Cranert is relocating the school from a strip mall on Tournament Road in Valencia, and apologized for not coming to speak to the council earlier, but said he was not aware of the town council’s existence.

“I would have preferred to come out ahead of time to let you know what we were doing than to have this negative reaction,” Cranert said during a presentation detailing the plans for the school. “We think we’re bringing something wonderful to the community.”

Monticello serves kindergarten through ninth grade and, according to the school’s Web site, utilizes a “neo-classical” core curriculum that focuses on history, arts and sciences. Latin, Spanish and French are taught starting at the elementary level.

The school has a maximum occupancy of 110 students, but only 40 students are currently enrolled. Cranert has kept the property at 30730 Hasley Canyon Road essentially the same, with a few changes made to accommodate the code requirements of the various departments in the approval process.

“We are at the point where we have satisfied the code requirements of every agency,” Cranert said.

Castaic residents who spoke to the council in opposition to the project cited traffic congestion and safety, disaster preparedness, noise and lower property values as reasons they did not want the school in their neighborhood.

Traffic concerns
To dispel traffic congestion concerns, Cranert told the crowd that a shuttle would be used to transport about half of the students to school, and the other half are planning to carpool. Students will also be bussed to sports classes at Vista Valencia Golf Course and The Paseo Club, both in Valencia.

Hasley Canyon resident Ken Meyers said that having a school entrance near a blind curve, known to locals as “Dead Man’s Curve,” is an accident waiting to happen, and that the school traffic would crowd the two-lane road that is already congested.

“Busing the kids to sports will cause even more traffic,” Meyers said.

Councilwoman Renee Sabol was concerned that the school could not possibly be prepared for a fire like the Ranch Fire of 2007 that scorched through Hasley Canyon and forced the evacuation of the entire area and the closure of Hasley Canyon Road.

“If there’s a fire, all those parents are going to make a beeline for their kids, and they’re not going to be able to get in,” Sabol said.

Cranert said that the shuttle would be available to evacuate the students, and that the school would also have several days worth of supplies in the event of an earthquake or other disaster. The home, which was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, is also being renovated to meet current seismic standards.

Nick Arena, one of the nearest neighbors of the school site, had many concerns about the project including the noise that would be generated by more than 100 students. Noise tends to echo throughout the entire canyon, he said.

“Currently we have a neighborhood that is peaceful and quiet enough to hear a bird fly,” Arena said. “I recommend that the Los Angeles County Planning Commission do what is right and reject this project.”
Cranert responded that the students will be inside the school most of the time.

“There’s no gymnasium. There’s no football field,” Cranert said. “There will be a play field where the kids will be able to play at lunchtime, but other than that the students will be inside.”

The Castaic residents and council members were also shocked by the speed at which Cranert was able to get approval for the project. The plans were first submitted for approval in May 2008.

“This went through slicker than slime, and I’ve got a neighbor who’s been trying to do an indoor remodel and hasn’t been able to get approval in over a year,” said Sally Ellis. In fact, several residents cited examples of attempts to get permits for barns, decks and other additions that took years to approve.

“How can they get a site approved for a school so fast, when the (William S. Hart Union High School) district has been looking for a site for a high school for us for years?” Councilwoman Vanessa Brookman asked Gutwein.

“I don’t want to beat this to death, but they met all the standards,” Gutwein said. “I may not be popular saying this tonight, but that’s how the approval process works.”

Some speakers implied that the project’s speedy approval could be due to contacts Cranert may have in the county or even something illegal.

“Tonight I’m troubled. I’m hearing so many things from people in the community, that I think there might be some impropriety about what went on here,” Councilman John Kunak said.

Cranert said he was deeply offended by the suggestion of impropriety and assured those present that he followed the strict letter of the law.

“We welcome any scrutiny you want to give us, because everything was done on the up and up,” Cranert said. “We’re not here to ask your permission — we already have permission.”

Cranert told the crowd that he had come to the meeting as a courtesy, and not because he was required to by law. He said he wanted to be a good neighbor, but after hearing comments from residents he felt Castaic was just “a mean-spirited community.”

“A good neighbor listens, and you’ve got a room full of people who don’t want you,” Meyers responded.

Following the lengthy discussion, the council voted to send a letter to county Supervisor Michael Antonovich and the county agencies involved in the approval process requesting that they scrutinize the entire project, and then review it again based on input from the community.


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