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A Haven for Learning or for Rowdies?

Los Angeles Unified School District officials, citing a need to ease overcrowding at Monroe, Van Nuys and San Fernando high schools, have expressed interest in acquiring and building a high school on the lot of a former Gemco store in Arleta.

The 12.6-acre site, vacant since 1986, is owned by a Mexican-based food retailer that wants to build a supermarket there.

DIANE WEDNER asked two area residents and a high school principal about the desirability of building a new high school on the northeast Valley site.

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MARCO BATTIGELLI

Arleta resident and General Motors employee

I believe the [school district] should not build a school there because the area is not suited for a high school. There’s already an elementary school down the street, and we have a lot of traffic.

The No. 1 issue is safety. I live right across the street from this site and we don’t want people hanging around who shouldn’t be there. Not all high school kids are bad, but even if there’s not gang-related activity, there are still fears of shootings and disruptions. Sometimes they occur off-campus. I believe the store would be a better choice.

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Some of us fear that property values may go down here as a result of possible teen-related crime. It used to be that families wanted to buy a home near a school; it would increase the home value. Now, though, we’re in neighborhoods that are near gunfire. I feel uneasy having a high school nearby, where that activity may happen. Traffic is a big issue. We’re near Van Nuys Boulevard, which is very busy. I prefer they pick another site where it’s more residential. We’re already too crowded. We worry about school buses, gridlock and congestion. It seems like it would be a real big mess.

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SOLEDAD ALATORRE

Pacoima resident and volunteer with Padres Por un Futuro Mejor (Parents for a Better Future)

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I think we should build a new school in Arleta because we need it. Count how many high schools we have in the area: San Fernando High; that’s it. We have many young people in the area that will attend the high school. Those that we have are overcrowded. A new high school nearby would be perfect.

We don’t need new jails, we don’t need new markets. There are plenty of stores in the neighborhood. If they put a business there, they may move out in three months and forget about us. One high school in that place can be fantastic for many areas of the Valley.

I live near the old Gemco site, and I live near Pacoima Middle School. I’ve never had any problems with kids here. They get out and go home or go to the library or with friends or parents; they don’t hang out in the neighborhood.

I have nieces and nephews, and friends in the neighborhood with children, who want a high school closer to their homes. They don’t like the year-round schools, in which two children in one family sometimes are on different tracks. Hopefully this would ease that problem.

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I’ve lived here for 20 years and have never experienced a terrible amount of noise from traffic. This is not something I’m worried about. What alarms me is the idea of not having the space to educate our children.

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JOAN ELAM

Principal, James Monroe High School, North Hills

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If the school district is planning to build a comprehensive high school, the 12.6 acres at the Gemco site is probably not sufficient. My question is: How could that small space accommodate a comprehensive high school, one that would include academic buildings, a football field, a computer building, an arts complex and administration buildings?

Also, I have to ask whether that site would really be of assistance to us. Its geographic location won’t help Monroe too much. Do we need to ease the overcrowding? Absolutely.

Regarding having a school in a residential neighborhood, the neighbors here would say that [our] high school has been an asset. We’ve opened the first school fire academy, a police academy and two children’s centers that serve the community. I would hope that people in Arleta would see a high school in their area as an asset to their community too.

I feel we need additional land for schools. I can’t say specifically if the [Arleta] space would be adequate. I feel we need about 35 acres to build a comprehensive high school.

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