Use the Joint Powers Agreement as Leverage

BHHS bicycle rack cluster
The student’s reward for biking to high school: a crappy bike rack far from the classrooms.

City of Beverly Hills can take many steps to encourage safe cycling, but no step would be as formative as making sure our school district plans for safe cycling align with our city’s vision forĀ multimodal mobility. Today our school campuses are hardly bike-friendly: only a few K-8 plants include a bicycle rack, and our high school (right) is a worst-practice example in how to discourage riding to school. But City Council could leverage our joint-powers agreement with BHUSD to ensure that the school board makes campuses much more bike-friendly.

As we’ve said before, the schools might just be the best opportunity to get folks riding. In the face of policymaker indifference to a citywide bike network, and outright hostility to a facility like a bicycle lane, our schools could do much to welcome students who choose ride. That would not only serve our common interest, but help dig the district out of its chronic inability to meet student parking demand.

Nor should the district even try. Instead, BHUSD could use some of the public’s bond dollars that are earmarked for facilities upgrades (but often spent on anti-Metro attorneys) to install better racks, say, or to establish phys-ed programs that demonstrate safe-riding techniques to students. We’re seeing an uptick in riding among students in many areas of the city. Why not Beverly Hills?

We’re realists: we don’t have much hope that BHUSD will take the lead on its own accord. To date the board has exhibited scant interest in encouraging cycling, in fact. The high school principal, Carter Paysinger (ironically, a former sports coach) hasn’t reciprocated our outreach to increase the rate of bike-to-school at BHHS. Moreover, we’ve attended a handful of facilities oversight meetings at the district HQ to make sure that multimodal mobility concerns are heard. But our pleas for better bike racks and class II bicycle lanes to connect schools and parks were only met with knowing nods… but no action.

Yet our principal does seem interested in his own after-school extra-curricular sports network – for which he recruits fee-paying district students. A report last year commissioned by the school board found that he’d been self-dealing by controlling that enterprise, failing to report income, and sidestepping conflict of interest rules but he was cleared of criminal charges. To date he’s not been sanctioned by the district.

Regardless, he can do more to make the high school welcoming to riders. And now is the time to ensure that the high school, and all campuses, are hospitable to multimodal mobility for decades to come. The BHUSD facilities upgrade is a perfect opportunity to align campus mobility planning with our city’s own vision for increased bicycle use.

What Leverage Does Our City Have Over the District?

City Council can encourage the district to move forward on our city’s health and safety priorities by conditioning some part of the $1 million in taxpayer funding we give to the district (under a ‘joint powers agreement’) on bike-friendly district facilities. What is a joint powers agreement? We’re glad you asked. From Tuesday’s staff report 2014-6-17:

The City of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District entered into a four year agreement effective July, 2012 regarding the provision, use and maintenance of educational, recreational and community facilities and programs…During the year, the City averages approximately ninety (90) hours per day of School District facility use. This includes, but is not limited to, preschool programs, after school childcare and enrichment classes, youth sports organization use, aquatic activities, summer camps, adult sports and adult classes. Without the use of School District facilities many of these recreation opportunities for the community would be non-existent or extremely limited. – Staff report

We pay dearly for the privilege of using school facilities: $1 million annually, in fact. That presents an opportunity to extract a bike-friendly concession for our school district bucks. Indeed the agreement could provide some incentive for district planning for multimodal mobility. After all, our city’s Bicycle Master Plan (1977 – see the map at bottom) views schools as key nodes of a planned citywide network. Why not plan for safe cycling from these nodes out to the rest of the city?

BHHS pool conditions
Decrepit pool conditions suggests a history of mismanagement of BHHS the facility.

But there’s yet another reason to task the district under a revised agreement: it is simply falling down on the agreement that the district already signed. TheĀ Joint Powers Agreement staff report highlights the problems: poor maintenance of pool facilities that disrupt city aquatics classes; a $32k city tab for outside-the-district facilities rentals after the unanticipated closure of the pool and B-ball court; and poor district communication practices that put the city at the whim of the district for after-school and other programming. BHUSD is the tail wagging the dog.

We can and should ask for more from BHUSD. City Council can start by renegotiating the agreement to 1) hold the district accountable for poor performance; and 2) to ensure that BHUSD becomes more bike-friendly for the benefit of all city residents and students both present and future.

Bike Master Plan Bikeways system map (1976)
An ambitious 22-mile bikeways system for Beverly Hills in the Bicycle Master Plan (1977) shows how schools and parks could be linked by multimodal mobility facilities like bike lanes, paths and routes.