By Tim Hunt
Frustration grows in DublinUploaded: Jan 2, 2018
Frustration levels are running high for some Dublin residents driven by over-crowded schools that they believe are exacerbated by continuing residential growth.
Dubliners United, a political action committee, initiated recall efforts aimed at City Councilmen Don Biddle and Abe Gupta last month. The group also targeted school trustee Dan Cunningham with a recall because of what they termed inappropriate behavior.
The underlying issue is the failure of the school board during the planning process for East Dublin to insist upon a school site east of Camp Parks. The board, at that time, instead decided to expand and improve Dublin High and have one large high school. Somehow those responsible ignored the sprawling Camp Parks Reserve Forces Training area that divides Dublin and results in only Dublin Boulevard and Interstate 580 being east—west routes. All the Dublin High-bound traffic must take one of those two routes—the majority choosing Dublin Boulevard.
When I asked former Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti about the decision, Tim recalled how frustrated Councilman George Zika was at the time. Tim related that George asked school district officials three times about a high school on the eastside and finally acceded to their plan for one large high school.
That has proven to be a planning disaster of the first degree. Student projections for both East Dublin and the Dougherty Valley in San Ramon have been shown to be way too low. In both districts, I believe those responsible used the best data they had at the time, but the demographics shifted, and many more children are in the new areas. Both districts have added more schools than originally planned in the new areas.
Sadly, for Dublin, there are two challenges—
1. Finding a suitable site that is large enough and at a reasonable price
2. Coming up with the money to build it if a site can be located.
It’s unfortunate that the school board, earlier this year on a 3-2 vote, chose not to pursue a vacant office building that could have been converted into a school. Some parents complained that it was a dangerous site because of its proximity to Santa Rita county jail. Somehow, you do not read any similar concerns from the hundreds of residents living across the street or the nearby elementary school.
The school district now has a task force working to determine alternatives to build a high school in east Dublin.
Meanwhile, Dubliners United has launched signature-gathering campaigns (they need 5,800 valid signatures) to recall Cunningham and the two councilmen. The irony is that both Gupta and Biddle have terms ending in November this year. Biddle is termed out, having served since 2008, although he floated the idea of the council discussing whether to put a measure on the ballot to modify or eliminate term limits. Incidentally, Biddle served 13 years on the school board before taking an 18-year hiatus from public service.
Term limits were approved by voters in 1996. Given the popularity of term limits across the state, it’s doubtful that either a majority of the council or voters will go there.
The council recalls, assuming the signature-gathering is successful, and the election is consolidated with the primary in June, would have an effective time of less than six months. It’s not worth the effort unless the effort is a preamble to build support for a different slate of candidates in November.
That’s not the case with Cunningham who was elected in 2016. Whether his behavior and what recall supporters describe as conflicts with teachers and residents rise to the level of a recall will be determined whether people sign petitions.
Unfortunately, recalling all three would only send a message—it would do nothing to alleviate the overcrowding. That’s up to the school board, working in conjunction with the City Council, to solve.