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 for 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. The 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.


BHUSD Grapples with the Cost of Driving to School

BHUSD logoBeverly Hills Unified School Board recently heard about the cost of student parking at the high school. Not the price to students, which is nominal, but the costs that the district and the community bear for failing to encourage more students to ride to school. For the community, it is clogged streets every morning and afternoon and few curb spaces available for residents. For the district, however, it means financing garage parking for a large share of the estimated 970-1200 needed spaces. With bond financing pinched under current law and the district taking heat for wanting to hike property taxes for a multi-campus expansion, isn’t there a better alternative than spending $40-50k for each new garage spot? Continue reading

PTA Hosts BH Community Forum on Bike-Friendly Streets

Eric Bruins, Policy Director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, presents best practices in bike-friendly street infrastructure.

Horace Mann on Wednesday evening hosted a PTA-organized forum intended to jump start a community conversation about making city streets near our schools safer and more bike-friendly for children and parents. The forum was organized by current Horace Mann PTA president Jeffrey Grijalva and past President Howard Goldstein and moderated by Horace Mann parent Jeffrey Courion, who is an advocate for building community the old-fashioned way: by walking our streets and running errands by bicycle. Continue reading

Seen This Movie Before?

Frankenstein 1931 posterThe original Frankenstein (1931) film will screen at UCLA’s Wilder Theater this Friday evening at 7:30. Adapted from Mary Shelley’s moralistic fable, the film takes a sinister turn when the cobbled-together cadaver wreaks havoc in the Swiss countryside – a Freudian Id given material life by its maker – only to find townsfolk with torches in hand actually the greater threat. This gothic horror gem puts us in mind of theatrics closer to home here in Beverly Hills, where we have our share of torch-bearing townsfolk too. Continue reading

Update: Where Things Stand in Beverly Hills

ballot box illustrationBetter Bike over the last week has met with three of our five City Council members (including the Mayor) and touched base with our contacts in Transportation, at the school district, and at Library to assess progress toward a more bike-friendly city. During these dog days of August (and aren’t we grateful it’s not been very doggy?) we can report that progress is not very positive to date, but can turn on a dime with policymaker support. Here’s a rundown of our initiatives and an overview of where we are (or aren’t) starting with the good news. Continue reading

Safe Routes to School: Coming to BH Unified?

Safe Routes to School improvements for BH Unified school district? Recently we mentioned the Beverly Hills Unified district’s master planning process in which a needs assessment and facilities redesign promises to get our district back on track after a decade or more of wayward planning and even a corruption investigation. Backed by Measure E, which authorized the district in 2008 to issue $334 million (no typo!) in bonds for structural upgrades to school plants,the district has unimaginable capacity to completely reform our city’s four K-8 school campuses and the high school. (Read more about Measure E in the 2010 audit.)

There is a huge opportunity here to focus some of that spending on bike-friendly improvements. With a new Superintendent and a relatively new school board in place, perhaps the time is right to create bike safety programs, put new racks on school grounds, and extend improvements to school-proximate intersections in line with Safe Routes to School recommendations. Read our letter to the new Superintendent. Let the district know that you support student cycling and safe road conditions that will get them to school and back intact. Email, phone (310) 551-5100, or drop them a line at 255 South Lasky Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Tell them Better Bike sent you!

BH Unified: Our Best Opportunity for Safe Streets?

There has been little progress in Beverly Hills on making our streets safe for cyclists. Despite  a nearly two-year old outstanding request to replace the sorry bike rack at the Civic Center; despite a bike plan update committee formed after the adoption of the city’s general plan; and despite an oft-heard refrain from top city officials – “I’m a cyclist and I appreciate what you’re doing” – in fact the city has done little to nothing. Our best chance for change in conditions for cyclists may rest with the school district. Continue reading