Hillbrook School wants to increase its enrollment by almost 32%–from 315 to 414 students. Neighbors are justifiably upset by Hillbrook’s plan. Traffic in the neighborhood, which includes Marchmont, Englewood, Hilow, Topping, Stonybrook, Kennedy, Shannon, Loma, and Ferris, already suffer heavy traffic. At the same time, children are trying to walk and bike to school on streets with no sidewalks and no bike lanes. People are trying to walk their dogs or just take walks. This is a dangerous situation, which Hillbrook’s proposed increase would only make more dangerous.
Here is a little history: On April 25, 1984, a Conditional Use Permit was approved to legalize the nonconforming use of Hillbrook School. One of the conditions of approval was that the maximum number of students shall not exceed 315. In 2000-2001, the school requested permission to increase the size of some buildings and put up others. Neighbors expressed the concern that by increasing the size of its buildings, Hillbrook intended to seek to increase enrollment. Then Head of School Sarah Bayne insisted that was not the plan. In a letter received by the Town on September 29, 2000, addressed to the Planning Commission, Ms. Bayne wrote:
There has been continued suggestion that the school’s master plan indicates its interest in increasing its population and overall size of the school. At no point has Hillbrook ever requested a change in its Conditional Use Permit, which limits the school’s population to 315. (Emphasis in the original.)
Throughout at least the past 27 years, Hillbrook has remained committed to a 315 cap. People buy homes with an understanding that the cap will remain in place and that pickup and drop-off periods will be confined to 7:30-8:30 in the morning and 2:30-3:45 in the afternoon. New leadership at the school does not seem to appreciate this background nor recognize these restrictions on when parents should be dropping off their children.
Neighbors object to the Hillbrook expansion on many grounds. Here are a few:
• Hillbrook has frequently violated the current Conditional Use Permit (CUP), particularly during the summer of 2011. For example, during the summer of 2011, Hillbrook allowed a private camp to use its facilities. The head of school said that at least 900 children were enrolled in summer programs. Under the CUP, Hillbrook is not allowed to rent or lease its facilities, nor is it allowed to have more than 315 children on site. Given this and other violations, there is no reason to trust that Hillbrook will adhere to a new CUP.
• The morning drop-off times at Hillbrook are very close to the drop-off times at the public neighborhood schools–Blossom Hill, Van Meter, and Fisher Middle School–generating too much car traffic at the same time as children are walking or biking to school. We believe this is an accident waiting to happen.
• Hillbrook is proposing most of its growth for its middle school. An increase at the middle school level will bring not only an increase in the number of cars dropping off and picking up children for school. It will also create more traffic with after-school and evening events.
• The Hillbrook expansion has no benefits for the town. Hillbrook is a nonprofit and, thus, pays no taxes. There is no upside for Los Gatos residents. We get traffic, noise, pollution, and dangerous conditions for our children. They get what they want–a school that is too big for the neighborhood.
• Parents dropping off their children often speed or use their cell phones, creating additional danger for our children.
• Most of Hillbrook’s students do not live in Los Gatos. Cars from out of town bring students in. Hillbrook does not have a major benefit for Los Gatos children.