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LCUSD, parents vow to combat impact of Devil’s Gate sediment removal with citizen science

LCUSD, parents vow to combat impact of Devil’s Gate sediment removal with citizen science
La Cañada Unified mom Elizabeth Krider demonstrates different sizes of particulate matter for school board members Tuesday in a discussion on the progress of the controversial Devil's Gate Dam sediment removal project. (Photo by Sara Cardine)

The Los Angeles County Public Works Department’s effort to remove sediment build-up from behind Devil’s Gate Dam has been an uphill battle that’s lasted nearly a decade as the agency has dealt with environmentalists’ lawsuits and ongoing public scrutiny.

Now, as county engineers move forward with their four-year plan to remove 1.7 million cubic yards of dirt and Station fire debris from Hahamongna Park, they’ll have a new challenge on their hands — La Cañada Unified School District parents.

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On Tuesday, a small but determined group of parents attended the regular meeting of the school board, where a presentation on the sediment removal process was on the agenda. They shared their worries about the potential health impacts to students of the 425 round-trip truck trips proposed in the project.

Their main objection was that the county’s environmental review did not analyze the amount of ultrafine particulate matter recent studies have shown is emitted from diesel trucks and has cancer-causing potential.

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Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy science teacher and LCUSD mom Elizabeth Krider said current standards don’t recognize ultrafine particulate matter, having a diameter of .1 micron or smaller, because scientific studies showing higher health risks than previously imagined are fairly recent.

“When the environmental analysis was done [the county] used an old equation,” Krider said. “The best thing we can do … is to persuade them to incorporate the new science, to think about reducing the truck trips or changing the type of truck — because you don’t want our kids to be the experiment.”

School board President Kaitzer Puglia assured parents district officials are just as concerned. LCUSD has submitted formal comments and passed board resolutions about the potential health risks of the hauling route being near so many La Cañada educational institutions, including La Cañada High School.

Chief technology officer Jamie Lewsadder said the district purchased air quality meters and will soon begin collecting baseline data that students can potentially use in their own science classes.

Parents said they’d scheduled a meeting with a field representative from L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger to share the data and see what more could be done. Last year, Barger made a motion to reduce the amount of sediment removed from 2.4 million cubic feet to 1.7 million.

San Fernando Valley Pediatrician and LCUSD parent Dr. Elizabeth Evans said the World Health Organization recently declared small-particle air pollution was the No. 1 risk to children worldwide. She thanked the district for promising to monitor air quality.

“You cannot rely on the companies that are doing this work to tell you if they are meeting air quality standards or not. We need to have that information ourselves,” she said.

Together, officials and parents promised to enlist help from researchers, possibly from USC and the neighboring Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in gathering data that could help them in their fight.

Sinnette’s contract extended

With no objections Tuesday, board members extended Supt. Wendy Sinnette’s contract with La Cañada Unified through July 31, 2022, with an annual salary of $260,916.

Sinnette’s new earnings reflect a 2% pay increase over her previous $255,800 — a raise granted to all employees in the Confidential, Managerial, Supervisory and Administrative Assn.

Because that increase is retroactive to July 1 of this year, the superintendent will receive the retroactive pay as a one-time lump sum of $6,821. Board members enthusiastically supported the extension.

“Wendy’s phenomenal, and it’s great she’s willing to stick around another four years,” said board member Dan Jeffries.

“I’m very grateful and fortunate to be able to work with all of you,” Sinnette told board and cabinet members.

YMCA to offer school-site fitness for district employees

Full-time LCUSD employees will soon be able to take small group training sessions provided by YMCA of the Foothills on the district school campuses, after board members approved allowing Supt. Sinnette to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Y.

Under the agreement, all full-time teachers, classified employees and administrators are eligible for free individual Y memberships (to be renewed annually), which entitles them to take part in the school-site classes, explained YMCA of the Foothills chief executive Tyler Wright.

“Somebody asked me a few months ago, ‘What’s in it for you?’” Wright said. “What’s in it for us is a better community, a better educational institution, better teachers and better students — isn’t that enough?”

Independent PE classes at LCHS 7/8 shaping up

In other news, school board members continued to discuss an option that would allow La Cañada High 7/8 students who were elite athletes or had doctor’s excuses to opt out of regular physical education classes while still meeting state standards.

One method would be to provide a standards-aligned online course of study students could take on their own time. That, along with the regular state-mandated physical fitness test, would meet California Education Department mandates, said Assistant Supt. of Educational Service Anais Wenn.

Wenn and Sinnette explained students who opt out would not be allowed to remain on campus during sixth period, to avoid creating a need for staffing or supervision. Board members directed Wenn to continue refining language with the district’s legal counsel before bringing the item back for approval.

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