By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer, LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/RTRuze
Parents and their children walk to their cars from Porter Ranch Community School. The campus has too few parking spots, and parents are leaving their cars in no-stopping zones on Mason Avenue and Sesnon Boulevard. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)
Cars line up along Mason Street prior to school letting out for... (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)
9/12/2012 07:34:00 PM PDT :: The new $56 million Porter Ranch Community School is winning raves for its innovative curriculum and architecture, but it's also raising safety concerns because of a parking crunch that's emerged since the K-8 school opened a month ago.
A shortage of parking spaces on campus and a ban on parking along the busy thoroughfares of Mason Avenue and Sesnon Boulevard has sparked a flurry of meetings, including one scheduled for Friday by City Councilman Mitchell Englander to discuss potential solutions.
"My primary concern is the safety of children and parents and protecting the community," Englander said Wednesday. "I'm open to whatever the community is willing to support."
Los Angeles Unified officials say safety is also their top priority, which is why they included a U-shaped student dropoff lane in front of the school's main entrance.
But the planners who designed the campus back in 2008 didn't anticipate that 150 of the school's first 700 students would be kindergartners - 4- and 5-year-olds whose parents need a place to park while they walk their youngsters into class and pick them up after school.
And that's why dozens of moms and dads have been defying the no-stopping signs posted along Mason and Sesnon after they can't find a vacant space in the campus lot.
"We have a extra-long valet-parking lane that's staffed by volunteers. It's the best in the district," said Principal Mary Melvin. "But it's really not appropriatefor the little ones."
During the meeting organized by Englander, Melvin plans to advocate for short-term street parking, not only for parents but for the volunteers who help out on campus during the day. Several, she said, have been ticketed when they've parked on Mason because the campus lot was full.
But officials say residents of some of the gated communities surrounding the school don't want parking on the thoroughfares.
The 1991 Porter Ranch Specific Plan developed in concert with developer Shapell Homes originally called for construction of separate elementary and middle schools to serve the communities. Los Angeles Unified later opted to build a single "span" school, which allows students to attend one campus from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Christos Chrysiliou, a development manager for LAUSD, said the district rejected the site Shapell originally offered for a school and instead chose the 10-acre parcel at Mason and Sesnon as the better location for the larger campus.
The district then completed an environmental impact report, which included a study that determined just 55 percent of students would be driven to the campus. A separate study identified Mason and Sesnon as "secondary highways," where parking is prohibited by law.
Those elements, Chrysiliou said, guided the district's Facilities Division as it planned and built the 121,600-square-foot school.
Englander, however, said district officials should have better anticipated the school's needs and requested an exemption to the parking ban on either Mason or Sesnon.
That's among the options he expects to discuss when he meets Friday with LAUSD officials, along with representatives of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council and nearby homeowners associations.
Neighborhood Council President Mel Mitchell said the group "suspected that parking would be an issue" about six months ago but was unable to come up with a solution.
No Stopping signs have been posted along Mason Street near Porter Ranch Community School in Porter Ranch on Sept. 10, 2012. Parents are forced to park in No Stopping zones along Mason Street due to a lack of parking at the new school and on surrounding streets. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)
Members discussed their concerns again on Tuesday night and agreed that something needs to be done.
"We're all for working together to come up with a solution," he said.
Among the other issues likely to be discussed Friday is signage around the span school.
Englander said the district has failed to ask for school-zone and speed-limit signs, while Chrysiliou said the request had been made but the placards haven't yet been installed. A spokesman for the city Department of Transportation, meanwhile, said he thought the signs were already in place.