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Charter School Allowed to Increase Enrollment, Council Votes

The council also voted to take no action and await further information on the proposed Quail Brush power peaker plant near Mission Trails Regional Park.

After hearing public comment from more than a dozen supporters of an enrollment expansion at , the La Mesa City Council voted 3-1 to approve an appeal, which will allow the school to increase its enrollment to up to 259 students, from its current enrollment of 180.

The school, which currently serves grades 6-8, hopes the expanded enrollment will allow them to add a fifth grade as well.

In August of 2011, just weeks before the start of the school year, the city's planning commission approved a conditional use permit for the charter school, which operates out of the La Mesa Church of Christ, 5150 Jackson Drive. That permit capped the school's enrollment at 180, a number which was requested by the school.

Mayor Art Madrid was the lone dissenting vote, saying that the planning commission's original ruling should be upheld.

"[The planning commission] was put in a precarious position last year," he said. "They didn't want to put the kids out or have parents relocate them. We have been empathetic and generous to the parents and the students, but we also have to respect the neighborhood."

At issue was not whether the school could accommodate more students. After a July 2010 renovation its basement, 259 students is possible. The real issue is what impact more students would have on the surrounding residential neighborhood.

"We're really talking about the impact on the neighborhood and holding people accountable," said Catherine Gervie, a neighbor of the school. "I can argue that you want to support education, but you also have to play by the rules. We were told that everything was held at 100 [students] and then lo and behold, there were 180."

She added that she can be in her house with the doors and windows closed and hear students in the playground area.

Vice mayor Ernie Ewin, and councilmembers Ruth Sterling and Dave Allan, approved the measure with the condition that the school work with the city to continue to mitigate noise.

Officials from the school argued that they have tried to be good neighbors and have engaged in talks with the residents of those homes.

The school built a sound wall last year to try and mitigate noise. Studies performed by Steve Fiedler, a noise and vibration project manager at Kimley-Horn and Associates, showed that decibel levels at the school with as many as 140 students (100 in the lunch area, 40 in the playground) were within the standards for the city.

He said that even with an expansion to 259 would not result in non-compliance of noise standards.

Mitchell Miller, director at CPMS, said that the way the classes and breaks are scheduled, there are never more than 90 students outside at any time. Over the last year, the city received only one noise complaint about the school, and that was only after the church's appeal to expand was made in May.

"If concerns [about the noise] were so great, they would have notified someone – the school, the church, the police," said Miller. "We want to be good neighbors and we want to address the issue, but we were never notified about a complaint."

Miller said that adding a fifth grade would increase the school's enrollment by about 45 next year.

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The council heard from both proponents and opponents of the proposed Quail Brush Power Plant, which would be located on privately-owned land adjacent to Mission Trails Regional Park.

The project manager, Lori Ziebart, made a presentation to the council on the benefits of the peaker plant, highlighting other plants that exist around the county. She said that the 100-megawatt plant containing 11 natural-gas powered engines, would not run 100 percent of the time.

Ziebart described for the council what the facility would look like.

"It's like a big box storage unit," she said of the engines, which were originally designed to be 100 feet tall. "We are seeing if we can drop the stack heights to minimize visual impact. That is part of what is taking so long. We have hired a landscape architect who is very familiar with the Mission Trails area."

Ziebart also said that the plant would be designed to blend in with the surrounding background by using "undulating hills, retaining walls, and native plants."

Three opponents of the plant also spoke, including Pete Hasapopoulos of the Sierra Club.

"We don't need this power generation," he said. "Rooftop and parking lot solar has the potential to generate 7,000 megawatts. It's insulting to hear that 'when the sun doesn't shine, the lights go out.' It's ludicrous that [power plant proponents] continue to assert that."

Councilmember Sterling, who said that she has already made the decision to oppose the plant, asked the council to take action, but her fellow councilmembers were not prepared to do so.

Ewin said that he wanted to see more scientific data before making a decision one way or another. His thoughts were echoed by Madrid and Allan.

"The burden is on proponents of Quail Brush to produce the science and definitive info on what it looks like," he said.

The ongoing issue is far from completion. The San Diego Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on amending part of the plan on Thursday, June 28. If approved, continued environmental testing will have to be performed, and the project will have to meet the approval of the California Energy Commission before being permitted.

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In other council items:

– The council heard interviews for several candiates for the city's various boards, commissions and committees. Decisions on the applicants will be made in the next two weeks, and members of these boards will be announced on July 10.

– The council voted 4-0 to approve a resolution confirming a list of delinquent sewer service accounts for collection. The city identified 589 delinquent accounts as of April. After informing those residents, about 220 paid off the balance of their accounts, leaving 362 accounts still delinquent in June. Of these, 206 have had prior liens on their accounts. The collection of these liens is expected to generate more than $125,000.

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