The Neighbors of St. Matthew’s Homeowners Group believes that the article in Pacific Palisades Patch regarding the changes St. Matthew's is seeking to their Conditional Use Permit (CUP) is misleading.
Sure, St. Matthew’s has dropped its request for one additional late night event (they are currently allowed 3 per year) and an additional four Special Events (they are currently allowed 12 per year), but they are still asking for the following major changes to the CUP that they negotiated with their neighbors in good faith back in 1997 and 2004:
1) Expanding their enrollment cap from 325 students to 384 students, an increase of almost 20 percent!
2) An increase in the number of events for which hundreds of visitors would be allowed to park in front of our homes on Bienveneda from the currently allowed 2 times per year (Town Fair and Graduation) to a whopping 6 times per year (additional events unspecified).
It is crucial to understand the context within which St. Matthew’s is making their requests. First of all, for over 10 years St. Matthew’s has refused to provide neighbors with the results of car pool studies as required by their CUP, and has failed to conduct regularly scheduled community meetings as outlined in their CUP.
Most importantly, without city permission and in violation of their current CUP, St. Matthew’s has illegally and unethically already increased their student enrollment from the permitted 325 students to approximately 350 students. In fact, according to their own filings with the city, St. Matthew’s has illegally enrolled an average of over 20 students every year since agreeing to the CUP back in 2004. This intensified use has exacerbated traffic problems on Bienveneda Avenue (remember that every student they enroll potentially represents four car trips per day up and down Bienveneda), and anyone who has been caught in the 30-minute traffic gridlock on Bienveneda every weekday afternoon has felt our pain.
St. Matthew’s assertion that their traffic study concludes that their requests will not have any significant traffic impact is misleading because their study uses an enrollment baseline of 351 students that is in violation of the agreed-upon limit as stated in their CUP. Traffic is significantly worse than it was when they were in compliance with their CUP, and will be much, much worse if they are allowed to raise their enrollment cap to 384 students. And based on their past unethical behavior, why should the neighborhood believe that they will even stop at 384?
The failure of St. Matthew’s to live up to the requirements of their CUP begs the following question: Why has a board (many of whom regularly sit on boards of corporations, financial institutions, hospitals, other schools, etc.) of well-educated, sophisticated, and successful business people, attorneys, and stewards of the school had such willful disregard for an Agreement that they signed and committed to with its neighbors and the city of Los Angeles?
The change in their request to park in front of neighbor's homes is equally outrageous. With the exception of Town Fair and Graduation, there should never be any reason for St. Matthew's visitors to park in front of our homes. When the CUP was negotiated in 1997 to build the huge 14,500 square foot Sprague Center, and in 2004 when substantial additional classroom space was added, the permits were requested by St. Matthew’s without the addition of any parking. Any other developer would have been required to add substantial--and costly--parking when expanding facilities on this large of a scale.
In exchange for their receiving permission to build without adding parking, St. Matthew’s expressly promised to not park in front of neighbors' homes. Now they want to break those promises. What has changed? Have they added substantial parking? No. Nothing has changed to excuse them from living with their legally binding promise to their neighbors that they have adequate parking available on site to provide for their visitors.
St. Matthew’s must be held to their promises and to the terms of their CUP, without which the two large facilities expansions would not have been permitted. It is inconceivable to us who live in the neighborhood that St. Matthew’s would be asking to park in front of our homes for 6 events during the school year instead of utilizing shuttle buses or some other means as every other private school located in a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles happily provides for their visitors out of consideration for their neighbors.
St. Matthew’s further assertion that there are very few protest signs is an unfortunate and specious argument. The signs indicate how upset people are by St. Matthew’s cavalier response to their breaking of their promises and agreements. Many have supported our position, but opt not to put up a sign for a variety of reasons, including, sadly, protecting their children from potentially being singled out amongst their friends.
Those of us who have spoken to our fellow neighbors, many of whom have been part of the St Matthew’s community over the years, are very saddened by the professional public relations and legal approach that St Matthew’s has taken in this matter as opposed to the moral and ethical approach they should be taking. Many have questioned, “Before asking for more concessions from the neighbors, why doesn’t St. Matthew’s first prove they can be trusted and go back to the letter of the law as stated in the 2004 Agreement?”
Finally, if St. Matthews wishes to expand their enrollment, they should not do it at the expense of neighbors who believed in the promises made by the Parish to its neighbors and the City in 1997 and 2004. Those promises have the force of law. We kept our part of the deal; St. Matthew’s has not and should not be asking to re-work an Agreement that they have refused to honor.
Kevin P. Joyce
Antoniette P. Joyce
The Neighbors of St. Matthew’s Neighborhood Group