"Morning Ambiance" by Charlie Acquisto

EDITORIAL: Neighbors make unreasonable arguments, but traffic discussion needed

Someone is causing trouble on Latham Drive. Is it the small private school that wants to increase its enrollment by 10%, or the residents who oppose the increase and say traffic will worsen?

Both parties have understandable needs, but the neighbors are being unreasonable.

Disagreement between the Sierra Oaks Homeowners and Country Day is nothing new. A dispute in 1996 resulted in an agreement between the two parties, capping the school’s enrollment at 544 students. At that time, the two parties agreed that the school would seek out a new location for its high school if it ever wanted to increase enrollment. 

Flash forward to today: Country Day requested modifications to its City of Sacramento zoning permit or Conditional Use Permit (CUP) that would increase the overall enrollment to 598. The city approved Country Day’s request, but the neighbors appealed the decision. They claim the school would be in violation of the 1996 agreement if it doesn’t move the high school.

The school administration argues that the agreement is old  and doesn’t accurately represent today’s circumstances. Head of School Lee Thomsen said the school had looked into getting a new location for the high school in the past, but that is no longer an option. 

Over the course of 24 years, change has been a constant. Holding the school — which has a new Board of Trustees and headmaster — to the promises it made in 1996 seems unreasonable, especially when the modifications are minimal. 

The neighbors, however, say that the currently “downright dangerous” traffic will worsen with the enrollment increase.

   A 2019 traffic study, by DKS Associates, arrived at a much different conclusion. It was submitted to the city to consider as it reviewed Country Day’s zoning request. The traffic study concluded there would only be a 2% increase in traffic at the Munroe Street and Latham Drive intersection.

Further, the study found, “From a traffic operations perspective, increasing the school cap from 544 to 598 students will not cause significant impacts to intersection delay on the local street system, with the provision that on-site traffic is managed to reduce or eliminate off-site queue spillbacks.” 

The neighbors’ appeal also alleges the school knew when the traffic study was to take place and somehow reduced vehicle traffic on campus that day. That argument is absurd.

 The traffic study offers solutions that should satisfy both the school and the nearby neighbors. 

To alleviate traffic issues that arise, the study recommended that the school hire a traffic manager for onsite SCDS traffic during drop-off and pick-up time. 

Additionally, the traffic study recommended that the school pay part of the bill to install a needed traffic light at Munroe Street and Latham Drive. The school has agreed to pay $150,000, which is 20 percent of the traffic light cost. 

The best path forward is one of collaboration and compromise. Thomsen said the school and neighbors are in talks. This should continue until both parties have determined long-term strategies that mitigate future traffic congestion and reduce overall emissions. 

Additionally, the city should not overturn its CUP decision. The study shows that the 10% increase in students would have a negligible impact on traffic.

Aggressive actions, such as lawsuits — like the neighbors say they are prepared to pursue — would only divide Latham Drive even more. 

Originally published in the Oct. 20 edition of the Octagon.