Op-Ed: Mea Culpa CSUS

In the wake of the Belmont City Council's decision to deny the application of Crystal Springs Uplands School, resident David Long offers a personal apology to the school.


Dear CSUS,

We were fortunate indeed to have you spend two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars considering the city we live in and love as the future home of CSUS Middle School. Like you, we love our small city’s beautiful open spaces, our historic commitment to education our bucolic tree-lined streets and our friendly neighbors – as the running joke goes – who are continually searching for Belmont’s downtown. Our city must have seemed like an ideal environment for the world-class education your school provides.

At tonight’s City Council meeting, just as happened a month ago, we heard from passionate voices both in favor and opposed to the CSUS project. The democratic process was in full swing. Unfortunately, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, democracy remains the worst form of government (except for all the others). CSUS’s denied opportunity to purchase, improve and instruct children in the long-vacant Davis Drive property was a catastrophic failure of Belmont leadership. This decision, unless reconsidered, will reverberate negatively for years in Belmont.

CSUS leaders, teachers, parents and especially children, I want to personally apologize to you on behalf of our city and on behalf of our elected and appointed city leaders. Our leaders are well-intentioned and have Belmont’s best interests in mind. They really do. Without exception, they are all my friends and/or former colleagues from my days serving on the Belmont Planning Commission, as president of Belmont’s Central Neighborhood Assn., and from working in various groups and on projects during the 12 years I’ve lived here. They appreciate the respectful opinion of each of us. But their respect and diligence is not the same as being right. The same can be said for those who opposed this project. There is nothing healthier to our city than having thousands of residents observing our city government deciding a complex issue. I applaud all of those, including those with whom I disagree, who added their voice and/or their writing to this important decision. This is as it should be. Bravo Belmont!

Those who’ve studied this issue closely know that this project is revenue neutral, that this is a lovely, state-of-the-art building design, that this school has consistently ranked as one of the top 50 schools in the country (the Wall Street Journal said “in the world” but that platitude seems overdone to this reader) and that the CSUS leadership has been expert in reaching out to the community with open ears, working tirelessly to constructively mitigate the concerns of all those opposed. In the decade that I’ve been closely watching Planning Commission and City Council meetings, I’ve never seen such a professional and competent applicant as the CSUS Head, Amy C. Richards. In my thinking, this speaks to the quality that CSUS would bring as our long-term future neighbor.

Perhaps worst of all for our community, this process and decision sends a chilling message to future business applicants and to our existing quality schools: NDNU, Merry Moppet, Charles Armstrong, NDHS and all the others. Was the NDNU Koret field noise debacle not proof enough of an inherent hostility that has developed here towards our private schools? How about the denial of Charles Armstrong’s expansion plans from a few years back? It would serve Belmont well to find a way to approve one of the big school projects that come up. NDNU – are you interpreting this as, “Beware as you seek to renovate Ralston Hall – let tonight’s outcome be yet another lesson to you!”? At some point we have to stop blaming the applicants. The evidence has mounted that our leaders’ affection for supporting any expansion of private education may have reached its limits.

And most ashamedly CSUS, there are a few residents among us who’ve told me they feel that parents and students driving past the world-class CSUS en route to Ralston Middle or other “inferior” institutions would “feel bad” since their school is not as posh and highly regarded nationally. Using this rationale, perhaps we should pity Menlo College students? Imagine their shame as they drive past Stanford. Boston College as they drive past Harvard? Holy class-warfare Batman…

Tonight we thoroughly explored the opposite of cliché “the rising tide lifts all boats”. We had a chance to bring an “Ivy League” middle school into our city and to bring the finest architecture since the Belmont Library into our midst. CSUS, your administration has pledged both one-time and ongoing financial support to the City. You’ve pledged tutorial and even teacher instructional support to our existing public schools. You have pledged use of your sports fields. You have adjusted your school hours particularly early to avoid traffic tie-ups on Ralston. You have covered your pool and toned down your playing field whistles. You have listened and respectfully reacted to every opponent – and have won over many, many who were once naysayers – myself included.

I should add that I don’t think my opinion could have moved the needle for this City Council, and this was not a project I was able to focus on and advocate for until late in the game. I deserve any criticism that comes my way labeling me a “Monday morning quarterback”. Guilty as charged.

My hope for you, CSUS, and for our lovely city, is that you will come back to the table. These good people we’ve chosen to lead our city don’t always get it right the first time. And if reconsidering your proposal falls on deaf ears, there will be at least one new City Council member in 13 months, not to mention that this issue can get additional broad scrutiny and study during the 2013 election year. You can prevail. It’s closer than you think.

In the meantime, by all means please seek to satisfy nearby property owner Mike Cuneen. He has a reputation as a fair and considerate man. And work at building further bridges with our public school system and school board. You might have sailed through tonight if our public BRSSD was not on the financial ropes and struggling to avoid catastrophic failure. Keep reaching out to them!

Please also seek to explore and support ways to mitigate and even help solve the single issue that drew the greatest critiques from your opponents – Ralston traffic. A creative plan to band with other schools and partially fund a “Ralston Runner” shuttle bus service could benefit you while actually solving the never ending Ralston traffic debacle. Prediction? Help us find a way to solve Ralston’s traffic bottlenecks and there will be lines of grateful Belmont residents picketing in front of City Hall until you are gratefully begged to locate in our fine city. We Belmont residents should in turn ask ourselves why our leaders have not already created such a shuttle from the panoply of available federal, state and local transportation funds.

Finally, as your chin hangs low tonight and you consider your best options moving forward, remember that we have a richness of schools in Belmont for a reason. Your instincts were right and your planning was (nearly) flawless. By sticking to it, overcoming a few remaining objections and seeing this through on a second attempt, you’ll set a terrific example for your students. Even my public school going six-year-old was taught by her public school alumni parents that “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  Here’s hoping that you will…

David Long is President of (and seeking a successor to) the Central Neighborhood Assn. and is a former Belmont Planning Commissioner who has zero ties to

Ron October 24, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Unbelievable!!!! The city with the deserved reputation for being anti-business has just shoved a red hot poker up the City of Belmont. This is absolutely shameful. First order of business is to reduce the pay those idiots on the City Council in order to replace all the lost revenue from their denial of this majestic project. I'm really flabbergasted at the idiocy of this city council. It really is a narcissistic city council that totally ignores the will of the people in such a pathetic way. Really, doesn't Belmont deserve better than this? You can bet that I will never vote on any local measure that increases my taxes in any way after the city council threw away millions of dollars in revenue by voting against the CSUS project. NEVER!
Steve Hayes October 24, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Please look at the archived video of the April 12, 2011 meeting (http://www.communitymediacenter.net/watch/belmont_webcast/belmont_ondemand.html) when the council and the city staff welcomed CSUS into the process - not a single person mentioned the rezoning issue as a concern. Look at support at that meeting versus the comments made last night - there is no consistency. We certainly need better leadership!
Concerned Dad October 24, 2012 at 03:35 PM
David Long for City Council in 2013, I will Support him!
ronny October 24, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Ron, It is illogic, inflamitory rhetoric such as this that helped to sway at least one vote on the council. Bravo Belmont CC for getting it right. No single entity should alter the general plan moving forward. They ignored your will, Ron, not the will of the people of Belmont. The will of the people mandated that the general plan not be changed. Based on this ongoing discussion on the Patch, Belmont deserves better residents, not better council members. Thank you Belmont CC for getting this right. For those who don't like this outcome, you have one optiion. Vote. Now let's get working a plan to monetize that beautifiul setting and get some real businesses in there that generate real tax revenue for the city instead of profit centers hiding behind as non-profit status. Bravo again Belmont CC! You kept our city from falling into a dangerous precident.
Concerned Belmont Taxpayer October 24, 2012 at 03:40 PM
November 2013 can not come soon enough. PEOPLE IN BELMONT NEED TO WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Don't just read the blogs on the internet...VOTE next fall to get rid of Dave Warden and Coralin Feierbach for good. They are hurting our town....they don't support children nor education. They are hurting our property values...Our reputation in the business community on the Peninsula is now in the gutter. How the h*** can you turn down one of the top ranked private schools in the US? This is backwards......the only good that come out of this is the people now will realize that we have the WORST LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN SAN MATEO COUNTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WE SPECIALIZE IN VOTING IN INCOMPETENT, SMALL MINDED, NIMBYS. Also, they are liars and can not be trusted. The speakers last night spoke out 9 for and 3 against. They said it was 50% for and 50% against. This is not true. Every poll showed over 60% were for this and 40% against. There were several polls conducted by the San Mateo Daily Journal, the Patch and the Godbe research firm during the past 6 months. The polls don't lie....
Concerned Dad October 24, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Can anyone tell me how the city reaches out to the Business Community to bring them in? As far as I know, this has been empty as have many locations in Belmont. The Biggest complaint from Business Owners that I have talked to is Belmont is not a Business Friendly City.
Timothy E. Strinden October 24, 2012 at 03:48 PM
I'll be supporting Dave, Christine and Coralin if they run for re-election. They had the integrity and courage to do what they believed was best for Belmont regardless of the intensive P.R. campaign organized by CSUS and its vocal supporters. There are too many politicians who cave in to pressure like that and we should be thankful we have council members who are independent and willing to take the heat for us on important issues.
Charles Stone October 24, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Well said, Steve. And thanks for posting the video. I planned to do it this morning. How unfair to lead CSUS on like that. What message is the Council sending to others who want to bring projects to the City?
Charles Stone October 24, 2012 at 04:07 PM
I'm curious if you can give us some examples of true independence...instances where Wozniak, Warden, and Feierbach voted differently from each other.
ronny October 24, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Hate to break it to you LJ but nothing you have said here has a bit of truth to it. Just inflamitory hate speak as usual. CSUS served less than a fraction of one percent of Belmont School kids. 99%+ of Belmont School kids got nothing from this proposal-so anyone voting against this cannot be said to be anti-education. And actually LJ, polls, especailly Internet polls can be radically influenced and are not in the slightest way accurate. Our property values will go up when the general plan is protected. I say, best local government for having the guts to stand up to a bullying entity trying to buy influence with heavy handed tactics. History will prove out that this was the right decision for tax revenue, businesses, education, property values and keeping the general plan intact. BTW: CSUS is not a business last I looked. Their a tax exempt institution. Re-elect Dave Warden and Coralin Feierbach for having the guts to stand up to these bullies!
Courtney Carreras October 24, 2012 at 04:25 PM
I was undecided as to where I stood on the CSUS issue. I am surprised however to read this morning that the City Council denied the application. Its the reason for the denial that is most perplexing. Not changing the General Plan? Really? Are we that set on a General Plan that was written how long ago? There is no room for adjustment to current circumstances? That doesn't seem like good "planning" for ANY city. This space has been virtually empty for years. The project would have brought a number of benefits to a variety of groups here in Belmont, and it seemed that significant progress had been made on concerns such as lost revenue and Ralston traffic. Good planning means adjusting to circumstances, not creating a plan and then sticking to it while ignoring the changes and opportunities going on around you. That means we will see many more opportunities slip by here in Belmont. And the concern that adjusting the plan now would make it easier to do it in the future seems odd. Take each request as it comes and consider each on its merits. The CC's rationale means that once they create the General Plan, their job is done, why did we even consider this application and make CSUS take two years of their time and effort addressing concerns and working with the City? If I were CSUS, I'd be furious. If the CC is worried about precedent, they just set a horrible one. Good luck attracting other institutions or businesses to Belmont.
Concerned Belmont Taxpayer October 24, 2012 at 04:43 PM
I just finished watching the video from Belmont City Council Meeting on April 12, 2011. The City Council Members were very positive and gave the green light for CSUS to go down this road and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. Here is what was said by David Warden "Great plan. I like it a lot. If you can make it work in Hillsborough, you can make it work on Davis Drive". Coralin Feierbach "I think it is fine. Welcome. Please do it. I really like the idea! I like everything about it. I like the LEED Certification. I like the field use. I like that your school is coming to Belmont. We will try and do it as soon as possible. Thank you very much for coming. I really approve!" Christine Wozniak "Davis Drive is a great place for a school within Belmont, because it is off of a main road. I like the idea that CSUS is willing to address the revenue issue. I like the LEED Certification, the Green buildings. It is great. There is a need for another private middle school in Belmont. Many private school children in Belmont go to Ralston for a few years and then back to private high school. I am happy with the idea of sports fields and trails. I will be excited to see what happens next." David Braunstein was the only one that brought up the General Plan at that meeting. He was concerned about safety issues of having so many adults near a school. Their mode is to blame the applicants...this has been going on for many years.....
Gladwyn d'Souza October 24, 2012 at 04:49 PM
CSUMS heard upfront that the city was top loaded with schools, that neighborhoods have issues with the existing schools, and that the thriving economy component of the vision statement needed attention. Their response was a PR campaign directed at older folks who vote! The public costs of the landuse change, could have easily been avoided from day one if the project had accepted conditional taxable status. Or negotiated with the public entities, school districts, libraries etc.. After all why penalize 5000 student with cancelled music and art so that six students can have everything? Robbing peter to pay paul may be popular patch politics but its bad governance. Thanks to three council members we got it right. Then city and the school rely for hundreds of thousands of dollars on incompetent consultant. This project from day one was told to address traffic on Ralston and the school refused to put their shuttles into a community pool. The project proponents would give Laurel and Hardy a run for their money. If the city took CSUMS’s money, the types of programs that would have got funded as articulated yesterday: fixed road (faster traffic when reverse speed bumps are filled in), additional turn lanes, and bridge crossing over Ralston, would make cycling, walking and neighborhood circulation worse. All the wrong projects are in the program stack at the city.
Abby October 24, 2012 at 04:59 PM
This vote makes no sense - I am shocked. The school would have been a good neighbor. The council should reconsider.
ronny October 24, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Great moment for Belmont standing up to preserve our general plan and not selling out to a single applicant waving cash.This took guts and history will show they were right. Gladwyn d'Souza you are right. PR campaign, consultant was a joke. CSUS has shown themselves to be a power brokering machine full of cash, not a non profit solely interested in the education of students. They are a education for hire entity located in one of the most affluent areas of the world who tried to bully their next door neighbors and it didn't work. Thank you, Wozniak, Warden, and Feierbach, for having the integrity to stand up for what is right for Belmont.
ronny October 24, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Courtney, The fact don't represent your assertions. No benefit to groups in Belmont, a fiscal wash, property sat because it was locked up by CSUS for more than a year, and if one entity can change the general plan by offering a relatively small wad of cash, the vision for Belmont out into the future is out the window.......how would you like it if our hills were covered in high rise condos? That might be an exageration but clearly the plan is the vision and is needed. Amending it for one entity sets a dangerous precident.
T October 24, 2012 at 05:41 PM
10:29 am on Wednesday, October 24, 2012 The contentious comments from the losers in this fight are disgraceful in tone -- as they have been the whole way along. Civility and respect of legitimate opposing viewpoints is, or at least used to be, the cornerstone of our democratic process. However, why should Belmont be any different than DC? This must be the "new normal" and hopefully not the way to "Roman decline." I have watched this from the outside and commend the city council for all of the work that each member put into his/her decision.
Jason Born October 24, 2012 at 05:41 PM
I agree that the current Council's decision was unfortunate but it definitely sheds more light on the anti-family agenda and disingenuous nature of the Three Stooges.
ronny October 24, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Hey Jason, Get back in your movies. Your a much nicer person on the big screen.
Jerry October 24, 2012 at 06:53 PM
The full impact of the expanson of Fox and Ralston Middle school's haven't hit us yet. Currently, we encounter significant traffic delays three times a day and have to adjust any appointments to avoid those time periods. Any emergency response during these these periods would also be a problem. Our public schools see no benefit from CSUS, tax wise. We currently have around twenty schools of various types in Belmont, most do not pay much towards our taxes and other city revenues. $30,000.00 plus tuition per student is a little beyond the financial capabilities of most Belmont residents. One petty point, is the fact that CSUS paid the property owner two years' lease payments not to seek a business tenant for those buildings involved. The phone calls and survey conducted by CSUS on Belmont residents hasn't set well with me. Changing the General Plan to re-zone the site for the sole benefit CSUS, which is a non-profit organization and not a for profit general type business isn't good for Belmont. The money CSUS spent to try to win approval of their plan, should have been a good business decision and not their current whining and sour grapes attitude. In all I do not think we have heard the last of CSUS and the school site issue. Stay tuned........ Jerry
Michael Williams October 24, 2012 at 09:54 PM
I find the personal attacks and political threats from these CSUS supporters unacceptable. The proposal was fully considered over time in multiple public hearings. Both applicants and oponents presented their cases fully and expertly. Both had the opportunity to speak directly to the public via Patch and direct mail. The council voted. You lost. Get over it. This is a wonderful community. That, in itself, argues very strongly against any claim of incompetence or indifference on the part of our elected leaders. Step back, tone down, and honor the democratic process.
Annie October 24, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Michael, I absolutley agree with you. The council voted for it and it lost, get over it. That's a good arugment if they hadn't let CSUS spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to apease the city, and drag it out for 18 months. This is not an effective City Council. Wasting others time and money isn't the way to attract other businesses to the city. These are not political threats, when you are in politics, this is the nature of the game, if you don't have thick skin, get out of the kitchen. You have to live with your decisions, and the reasons that you made the decision. We do live in a democarcy and majority rules. This is usually the way it works, and when the majority is ignored, the next election will reflect this decision.
ronny October 24, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Annie, They budgeted for this and it is a drop in the bucket for the daughters of Steve Jobs. Don't cry for them, they don't need your sympathy. Their doing fine. Or, it could of gone down like it did in when they pitched it to Hillsborough CC, a closed door private meeting hiding behind the Brown Act. I applaud our council with teh fact they took their time, very through a lot of discussion and diligence and voted it down for good reason. Annie, you Steve and Charles are not the majority. The majority were never heard from because they are not politically active. You guys are the vocal minority. Get over it. You lost. Belmont won.
Steve Hayes October 25, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Ronny Your comment is an example of the dishonesty that has gone on thoughout this process. CSUS never approached Hillsboro about expanding within that city because they already knew they had maxed out the space they had. You can make a comment like that but I have a phone and it is very easy to verify information. Call Hillsborough City Hall and ask yourself.
Annie October 25, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Ronny, Why would you say that this is a drop in the bucket? So what if Steve Jobs daughters go there. Who cares? It seems as though you do. Steve is correct, there isn't any space in Hillsborough for the campus to expand, so I would like to know how you have inside information about this secret, I mean private meeting. Also, just a sidebar, Nueva School in Hillsborough is expanding in San Mateo in the new business area where Bay Meadows used to be located. I may not be the majority, but we shall see next November. I think this whole mess opened people's eyes on how our city is run and it was an eye opening experience. I have lived here for over 30 years, I knew it was bad, but I was surprised how bad it really is.
Concerned Belmont Taxpayer October 25, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Ronny, why bring up Steve Job's children? Kind of mean spirited considering he isn't even alive anymore. CSUS gives out $2,000,000. per year in financial aid to 22% of its student body. Not every child that goes to private school is the son or daughter of a tycoon...and even if they are wealthy...who cares...everyone has problems in life....You have absolutely no idea what goes on in someone's family...This class based hatred has absolutely no place in a rational discussion of the CSUS proposal....Jealousy is ugly, Ronny.
Concerned Belmont Taxpayer October 25, 2012 at 12:48 AM
Annie, the citizens of Belmont need to figure this out on their own...this has been going on for many years....people need to wake up.


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