An all-girls middle school found a home in Van Nuys, but neighbors say it’s an ‘invasion’
In a span of about five years, the charter Girls Athletic Leadership School has moved three times, taking a toll on its students and teachers.
Then in mid-March, the program finally secured approval from the city’s Planning Department to build a site in Van Nuys.
If it wins wider approval – including a nod from the L.A. City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee and the Council itself – the new campus at 14203 West Valerio St. would feature amenities, including multi-purpose and conference rooms, an outdoor patio, lunch pavilion, an outdoor athletic field, running track, and educational garden.
But the project could also come to a screeching halt. Neighbors are pushing back against the development proposal.
More than 200 neighbors who live near the Van Nuys site signed a petition against the project’s conditional-use permit, citing concerns about potential traffic, noise and burden on the public infrastructure.
They called the proposed 23,000-square-foot building “massive,” noting it is several times larger than the neighboring houses and would look like a “fortress,” according to their appeal filed with the Planning Department.
There would be no space on the 1.2-acre-property for hundreds of cars to enter and since there are less than 40 parking spaces would be available on-site, the off-site parking would burden residential streets, the appeal claimed.
The public charter all-girls middle school has been operating since 2016 and currently occupies the fourth floor at Panorama High School, with about 230 students attending the program. Nearly 100 additional spots are reserved for residents of Van Nuys, according to the school.
Establishing an independent and permanent campus would provide a stable learning environment for students, the school said.
Sylvia Redon, a parent of GALS seventh-grade student, said students need their own location.
Having the school in the area would benefit the residents, she added, because students engage in community outreach programs like picking up trash and distributing meals to homeless people.
GALS Principal Vanessa Garza said the current Panorama City location is not ideal because even though the program occupies its own floor, it still shares the campus with high-schoolers.
“The boys and the high school kids ignore our students,” she said. “But parents care that there are high school kids around their kids, and that’s understandable. We just want to give them the peace of mind, and you can do that if we have our own site.”
Not having its own campus puts the program’s future into jeopardy, she said, because Panorama High keeps expanding its own programs. Expansions could potentially lead the all-girls program to lose a portion of the floor it currently occupies, transferring some students to another location and leaving the school “in a position that’s not sustainable.”
But Brian Robinette, a Van Nuys resident who represents the group of residents opposing the campus construction, said he supported the idea of building a campus in Van Nuys. But he said bringing it to the residential area would be a “invasion of our community.”
“You’re going to have hundreds of cars every day, twice a day, morning and afternoon,” he said.
Robinette said as soon as neighbors heard rumors the school was eyeing the nearby 1.2-acre property, they took action, collecting signatures from 200 neighbors who live within 500 feet of the proposed site.
Some of his neighbors were so upset about the campus plan, he added, they began looking into selling their homes.
So far, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Kerkorian appears to be on the same page with the neighbors.
His representative said in a statement that Kerkorian “would be honored” to have the school in his district, but he opposed putting hundreds of students at the current proposed location.
“The surrounding neighborhood has legitimate concerns about excessive traffic during dropoff and pickup periods, removal of protected trees, noise,” according to the statement. “The councilmember opposed the project when it came before the Planning Commission and without changes, he will oppose it when it comes before the Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee.”
In the coming months, the neighbors’ appeal is expected to be discussed by the Planning and Land Use Committee and then the L.A. City Council.