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Controversial Mixed-Use Project Proposal Sparks Outcry Over Safety Concerns to Gardner Street Elementary School

GUEST COMMENTARY - In a heartfelt and urgent appeal, concerned residents have raised serious safety concerns about the proposed construction of a 123-unit, 7-story mixed-use apartment building adjacent to Gardner Elementary School and it’s playground. In letters addressed to the Los Angeles City Council and Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez, residents of the neighborhood have outlined the potential dangers this project poses to the well-being of the community and, most importantly, the safety of the school's children.

The concerns surround a proposed 123-unit, 7-story mixed-use apartment building at 7441 West Sunset Blvd adjacent to Gardner Elementary School. It has ignited deep concerns in the local community. The project, outlined in Los Angeles Planning Department File DIR-2023-4766-TOC-SPR-VHCA, has drawn strong opposition from concerned citizens, parents, and educators who believe it poses a serious threat to the safety of children attending the school.

In a letter addressed to Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez, the neighbors of Gardner Elementary School expressed vehement opposition to the project, arguing that the development, which includes five liquor licenses for businesses to be built in this mixed-use project, endangers the lives of students, teachers, parents, and administrators at Gardner Elementary School. The potential risk of a mass shooting due to the elevated structure providing an ideal vantage point have also been expressed along with concerns about increased traffic, personal injury accidents and the impact on the public school's enrollment and value.

Residents Concerns Include:

1.     Pedestrian Safety: The project's impact on pedestrian safety has not been adequately addressed in the Planning Department report, posing a significant risk to children and parents navigating the already precarious drop-off and pick-up situation at Gardner Elementary.

2.     Traffic Concerns: The increased traffic generated by the proposed development, coupled with the proximity of 323 new apartments and existing traffic issues, creates an alarming threat of injury or death. The absence of a comprehensive traffic study raises questions about the project's safety.

3.     School Shooting Risk: The 7-story building with a rooftop deck raises concerns about the potential for the school to become a “location of choice” for a school shooting, endangering the lives of students, teachers, and administrators.

4.     Councilmember's Absence: The lack of involvement from the Councilmember and staff in community discussions has raised eyebrows, as the project's approval seems to progress without adequate consideration of the community's concerns.

5.     Affordable Housing  The emphasis on luxury apartments in this proposal is deemed incompatible with addressing concerns about affordable housing or homelessness.

6.     Alternative Proposal: Residents have suggested the city acquire the property for integration into the school grounds as a viable alternative, considering the lack of significant development on the site.

7.     Liquor Licenses: The approval of five liquor licenses for the mixed-use project adjacent to a grade school is deemed incompatible and reckless.

Residents of the area surrounding Gardener Elementary School have urged immediate action to halt the proposed project, suggesting that the City of Los Angeles deny a building permit and purchase the property from the developer at cost. Additionally, a plea is made for the establishment of special protection zones around public grade schools to safeguard against further developments that could compromise safety.

At recent Neighborhood Council meetings speakers have outlined the importance of public schools as a foundation of democracy, calling attention to the role they play in shaping an informed and engaged citizenry. Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez’s support for a project that seemingly contradicts the values of protecting public education and fostering equality have been voiced at the meetings. Many are puzzled by his decision not attend any NC meetings on this project, nor to allow any staff members to attend.

Area residents have spoken their concerns surrounding the proposed development, including the potential for a decline in enrollment due to safety fears, the stark contrast between the resources available to private schools versus public education, and the perceived indifference of the Councilmember to community voices and warnings.

A number of speakers at Neighborhood Council meetings have criticized the Planning Department's report, highlighting its deficiencies and lack of data to support key statements. The report's failure to address critical issues, such as traffic safety and the impact of the nearby nearly complete 200-unit apartment building, raises doubts about its credibility. Many have additionally challenged the Planning Department's report on the project by citing deficiencies in addressing core safety issues of a 7 story structure directly adjacent to an elementary school playground.

The fate of the proposed construction project now rests in the hands of the Los Angeles City Council. The community awaits a thorough review of the safety implications and hopes for a decision that prioritizes the well-being of Gardner Elementary School and its students.

Residents have urged Councilmember Soto-Martinez to oppose the project, calling for transparency, community engagement, and a focus on the well-being of children and the community. Many believe this is a critical moment for local leadership to prioritize safety of children and the values of representative democracy over the interests of developers.

I reached out to Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez for comment but received no response by the time of publication.

(Robert G. Jacobsen is a 44 year resident of Los Angeles and retired from a career in community banking last serving as the Chief Credit Officer of The Bank of Los Angeles. He holds a degree in economics from Northwestern University and a masters degree in business administration (MBA) from Washington University in St Louis.)