I wanted to respond to several of the issues raised in the
letter from the Neighbors of St. Matthew’s Homeowners Group that was published on
Pacific Palisades Patch on Sept. 10.
The letter stated, correctly, that we exceeded our enrollment cap (even though our stringent carpooling policy has kept the number of cars below that required at the lower enrollment figure.) What it did not mention is the reason this matter is before the public eye. When I became head of school two years ago, both the Board of Trustees and I were concerned that we were out of compliance. The school came forward to correct our mistake. Between the time I started in July 2011, and the time our application went public in early 2013, I heard not a single complaint about traffic or parking, either as head of school or as a resident of Bienveneda (I live in the house next to the school.)
Mention was also made of a 30-minute traffic gridlock every weekday afternoon. At 3 p.m. each day I am in the parking lot with my orange vest and whistle, loading those kids who are leaving into cars for dismissal. Many students stay for sports, study hall and afterschool activities, effectively staggering the dismissal. From my vantage point I can look down the street to just before the stop sign at Las Pulgas, and on most days the line of cars, which starts leaving campus between 3:05 and 3:10 p.m., has disappeared around the corner by 3:15 - 3:20 p.m. When the line is present, we understand it is hard on the 16 occupied houses on the west side of Bienveneda to access their driveways. Thus I have sent many reminders to our parents to respect our neighbors, as well as to obey speed limits and stop signs. We will continue our efforts in this regard.
The tone of the letter suggests that the school is an unfeeling institution, showing little concern for the neighbors. In my two years at St. Matthew’s I have seen abundant, daily evidence to the contrary. Because of our carpooling policies we have kept the number of morning carpool cars lower than if we had 325 students and followed the 52 percent carpooling mandated by the CUP. We use uniformed employees to remind guests not to park in front of neighbors’ houses during special events and work to get as many cars as possible on the property. We are proud to have an open campus, and many, many neighbors and even those from further afield, take advantage of our green spaces to walk dogs, play with their kids or grandkids, or just enjoy a quiet space nestled in the neighborhood.
The reference in the letter to each additional student representing four additional car trips each day is incorrect. Because of our carpooling policy and the fact that we are very much a family school, with two-thirds of the students having one, two or even three siblings also enrolled, our morning carpool rate is high (see carpool count on the Our Neighbors page of the website). To verify our high carpooling compliance, we are proposing a new condition that requires us to post compliance information on our website as well as formally present it to our neighbors and the city.
We have enjoyed our location on Bienveneda for 60 years, and have consistently invited our neighbors and all others in the community in for events that are now part of life in the Palisades, such as Town Fair and Christmas Faire (both of which are fundraisers for outreach). We also require that each student perform significant outreach every year and work with the Parish to donate volunteer hours, materials and hundreds of thousands of dollars to our outreach partners in the area annually.
In addition to letters to our neighbors, we have met with them in small groups and invited them to a meeting at my house, and trustees and I have met individually with neighbors at their homes. We have set up a section on our website (www.stmatthewsschool.com\ourneighbors) to provide useful information for them. But, as mentioned earlier, before we started this process I had heard no complaints.
I am happy to answer any questions or discuss concerns and my contact information is included below.
Head of School
310-454-1350, ext. 146
Editor’s Note: Letters may be edited for brevity and clarity.