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Over 75 Community Members attend the KSPTA Panel on the College of Marin M&O Facility

On Monday, January 13, more than 75 members of the Greenbrae-Kentfield community gathered at the Kent Middle School Library to listen to panelists discuss the College of Marin’s Maintenance and Operations Facility currently under construction next to Kent Middle School, the Marin County Office of Education’s Grant Grover Campus, and the Corte Madera Creek.

The Kentfield Schools Parent Teacher Association (KSPTA) hosted the event, which was moderated by Bitsa Freeman and featured a panel including David Wain Coon (President and Superintendent of College of Marin), Ken Lipp (Assistant Superintendent, Marin County Office of Education), Anne Petersen (Chairman, Kentfield Planning Advisory Board), Nicholas Salcedo (Treasurer, Friends of Corte Madera Creek), and Ina Gotlieb, a Kentfield School District parent and substitute teacher, who represented Kentfield Kids and Creeks.

The evening started with opening statements followed by a moderated question and answer period during which the panelists answered questions crafted by the KSPTA in response to community concerns about the facility. Questions for Dr. Coon were also addressed by Klaus Christiansen and Greg Nelson, both of College of Marin.

Audience members submitted written questions to the panel before the panelists were given the opportunity to make closing statements. The Kentfield School District Board of Trustees President, Heather McPhail Sridharan, read the following prepared statement at the opening of the meeting:

"On behalf of the Kentfield School District, our Board of Trustees, and Superintendent Liz Schott, I would like to thank the KSPTA for the invitation to participate in tonight's forum. We share some of the community's concerns regarding the construction and operation of College of Marin's new maintenance and operations facility.

"Based on these concerns, KSD filed a lawsuit under CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act in October of last year. Since that time, the KSD has been engaged in settlement discussions with the College. Out of respect for the ongoing settlement talks, KSD does not feel it is appropriate to participate in a public forum concerning the matter at this time. We look forward to continuing to work with the College collaboratively to address KSD's concerns and to protect the health, safety and welfare of our students and staff."[1]

The KSPTA President, Erica Applestein, welcomed the community and emphasized that the purpose of the evening was not to address the litigation between KSD and COM, but rather to address community concerns and learn more about the facility.

The project first came to the KSPTA Board’s attention at the September KSD Board meeting, when COM’s Capital Projects Manager, Mr. Isidro Farias, addressed the District’s concerns about construction site violations that COM was forced to address after public pressure, including the failure to tarp soil piles and water the site to prevent dust and debris from blowing onto Kent’s campus. Staff and students were complaining of dust from the site, and representatives from KSD had been attempting to get COM to address their concerns. At this meeting, Mr. Farias was asked and agreed to provide the Environmental Impact Report for the project.

Subsequently, the KSPTA learned at the next board meeting that COM had filed a Notice of Exemption for the project, which legally allowed the project to proceed without a full environmental review, and thus there is no Environmental Impact Report. KSPTA was provided the Common Sense Exemption report prepared with the assistance of Rincon Consultants, in which Rincon concluded that “there is no possibility that the activity in question may have a significant effect on the environment”[2] and thus the project qualified for an exemption.

At the time, KSPTA Board members were surprised that this report makes no mention of the project being adjacent to a public school, nor does it describe the operational scope and functions of the facility being constructed. Rather, it simply states that the project is a one-story M&O building of 19,559 square footage.

The report specifies that there is no increase in COM classrooms or enrollment as a result of the project, and that the building would not “cause an impact on the visual character of the [COM] campus.”[3] It also concludes that the project will not have a significant effect on the biological resources of the creek and that the “impacts to hydrology and water quality would be less than significant.”[4]

Community members were skeptical of these claims and became increasingly concerned about the project, and that concern has deepened as the community learned that in addition to parking and maintaining the full fleet of maintenance trucks and vehicles at this location, COM will be storing all materials and equipment for maintaining, cleaning, and landscaping the entire campus, and that the facility will house the waste collection, sorting, and pick up for the entire campus.

On Monday night, Dr. Coon and his team attempted to reassure community members that the facility will not have any adverse impacts on Kent, MCOE’s Grant Grover, and the creek; however, they faced anger and mistrust at COM’s handling of the project and the lack of more substantial environmental review.

Dr. Coon, Mr. Nelson, and Mr. Christiansen explained that COM does not use pesticides such as Round Up; however, they did acknowledge the use of fertilizers and that they cannot guarantee that COM will never store toxic substances at the facility. The representatives of COM sought to calm fears about noise, odor, and pest infestation due to the collection, sorting, compaction, and removal by Marin Sanitary of waste at the site, but many parents were not satisfied with the promises that the compactor COM has purchased will minimize odors and animals associated with the garbage.

Other community concerns included:

Nick Salcedo of the Friends of Corte Madera Creek praised the siting of the project at the farthest remove possible from the creek and was appreciative of COM’s support for FCMC’s efforts to remove the concrete channel from the creek to allow the creek to return to a natural state; however, he is hoping to learn more about the mitigation plans for water runoff with the conversion of a playing field into a nonporous concrete parking lot and structure.

The downside of siting the facility away from the creek is that it is as close as possible to the Kent Middle School play area and track.

COM officials pointed out that the track is technically on COM property (KSD has an easement for the track), and that the setback for the site was calculated not from the COM side of track but rather from what they called the “true property line’; thus allowing COM to build the site even closer to Kent—36 feet away.

This revelation prompted audible displeasure from the audience. Additionally, audience questions pressed COM to explain why the Common Sense Exemption Report prepared with the assistance of Rincon Consultants, Inc. made no mention of Kent Middle School, Grant Grover, or the planned use of the facility.

COM’s response was that they did not have that information.

In the end, many audience members expressed frustration that the College of Marin had not been more open with the community about the nature of the facility and that COM had not conducted a thorough study of its impacts. Dr. Coon pledged to communicate better in the future and to work with the KSD to address some of the concerns.

The KSPTA Executive Board is considering bringing a resolution on this matter to the General Membership for a vote at the next Association Meeting. In addition, the COM Board of Trustees has put this issue on the agenda for their public meeting on January 21st at 6pm and will hear community input at that time.

The KSPTA is grateful to all of the panelists and our moderator for participating in this community meeting, and we appreciate the community members who came out to learn more. We hope that COM will work with KSD and the broader community to address lingering community concerns about the facility, and we look forward to the continuation of the longstanding good relationship between the KSD community and COM.

[1] Heather McPhail Sridharan, President, Kentfield School District Board of Trustees.

[2] College of Marin Kentfield Campus Maintenance and Operation Building Project Common Sense Exemption Report.Prepared by Marin Community College District with the assistance of Rincon Consultants, Inc. April 2019.

[3] Ibid, p7.

[4] Ibid p8.