Beverly Hills High School--a 60-year-old landmark frequently portrayed in television and movies as California’s typical high school campus--would be torn down and replaced by a Century City-style high-rise development under a new proposal to raise money for one of the nation’s most affluent school districts.
The proposal to redevelop the high school site is one of several options contained in a 26-page report issued by the Beverly Hills Unified School District’s real estate committee. The committee is searching for ways to use real estate to improve the financial situation in the district, where parents and school officials fear that declining revenues will undermine a tradition of academic excellence.
Despite the preliminary nature of the report, the proposal to demolish Beverly Hills High has already touched off a storm of controversy.
“It is the most repugnant proposal I have witnessed in government,” said Mayor Robert K. Tanenbaum. “I am not willing to sacrifice a generation of young people to be housed in Quonset huts or makeshift classrooms to have the district sell property. There are other ways to go about it.”
On the other side, committee chairman Kenneth Goldman said, “The high school site alone could be a billion-dollar development. It is possible to solve the financial problems of the district for the next five decades. Real estate is the only asset that will approach that.”
School districts all over California have been searching for ways to bolster sagging revenues ever since voters approved the tax-cutting Proposition 13 a decade ago. Beverly Hills--which boasts celebrity alumni such as actors Richard Dreyfuss and Betty White--has already tried star-studded fund-raisers, oil wells and, recently, a line of designer clothing decorated with the Beverly Hills High logo.
Under the new proposal, the district would raze the existing high school building and construct a new “state-of-the-art high school” on the northern 19 acres of the site. It would lease the remaining eight acres at Olympic Boulevard and Spalding Drive to a developer to construct an office complex. Depending on the size of the development, the district could earn up to $18 million a year from this venture, according to the report.
The real estate committee plans to schedule five public hearings on the proposal before it issues a final report to the school board sometime in the next two months. Most school officials were reluctant to discuss the issue this week.
But school board President Dana Tomarken said, “I don’t like it.”
“It deals with the bottom line economics needs and doesn’t really assess the tremendous burdens that such a move would involve,” she said.
She said that such a project would disrupt the education of thousands of students (the student body numbers 2,100) and it would require further study to determine the impact on traffic and density.
But school board Vice President Frank Fenton said he needs more time before making a final decision.
The important issue, Fenton said, is that the district be placed on a more secure financial footing. “If it meant putting the district on a financial course that would allow us to have the programs that we want and to give the benefits that we need to the teachers, I would tear the whole place down.”
The issue touched off a heated City Council debate this week when Mayor Tanenbaum strongly denounced the plan and asked that the city’s zoning laws be revised to prevent the commercial development of properties designated for school use. Other council members decided to study the situation and wait to see what the school board does.
Some early opponents say that the committee’s proposal could stir up anti-development sentiments that have been dormant in the city since 1984, when voters defeated a referendum to build hotels ranging from 6 to 12 stories in the city’s business district.
Goldman, who chaired a group that fought to stop high-rise hotels, said the committee’s proposal is different because the proceeds would support the schools.
“It is a trade-off between commercial development and educational development,” he said. “Clearly there are a number of people who do not want to disturb the status quo, but that will not solve the long-range needs of the district.”
School officials define those needs as the ability to lower class sizes, pay for higher salaries and provide better school facilities. Many parents and school officials feel that the district has been unable to maintain standards since it was stripped of its ability to raise taxes by Proposition 13. School officials have been forced to cut $3 million from the district’s $27.6-million annual budget over the last two years.
The district spends more than $5,000 a year to educate each child, compared to a state average of about $3,000. The state gives Beverly Hills about $3,700 per child. To make up the difference, the district receives about $4.6 million a year from the city and about $500,000 in public donations.
Oil revenues from wells operating on the high school campus dropped from $1.2 million in 1982 to about $335,000 in 1988. The district expects to receive some income from the line of clothing being marketed with the high school logo, but the line has been delayed until spring. Thus far, the district has received from the clothing project only about $30,000, which came as part of a licensing agreement.
School Supt. Bob French said that by 1990 the board may ask the voters to approve a flat tax on each parcel of land in the district to support the schools. A similar tax lost by a narrow margin in a 1987 vote in the city.
The real estate proposal could eliminate the need for a tax, but not everyone is impressed.
“How crummy,” snapped Joan Crawley McCarthy, who graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1942. “It is such a beautiful old landmark. I’d love to think this would be defeated.”
Minde Sanders, 17, a senior, said: “No way. There is no reason to do that. The school is fine the way it is. We’d protest it.”