Mount Shasta council clears way for Golden Eagle to build new charter school on Pine Street

Kelsey Shelton
Mount Shasta Herald

After much discussion at its meeting Monday night, the Mount Shasta City Council cleared the way for Golden Eagle Charter School to build a 35,000 square foot school off of Pine Street, across from Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta.

The proposed location and parcels are 300 feet away from the Eskaton living facility, as well as local wetlands in the area between Pine Street and Interstate 5, and has sparked concerns with the local environmental group Mt. Shasta Tomorrow

According to a presentation from Mount Shasta City Planner Juliana Lucchesi, the school building will be able to house up to 200 students and staff at one time. Golden Eagle runs on an alternating schedule due to specific needs of attendees. 

Aside from the facility itself, the project includes a full access driveway off of Pine Street and an 82 slot parking lot with ADA compliant spaces and electric charging spaces. The proposed building area is considered "high density" residential, and allows a school for operational uses. 

More:Mount Shasta athletes, parents rally to return kids back to fields, gyms

More:Mt. Shasta area prepares for snow: here's what to expect

In 2019, a plan was originally presented for a different area closer to Pine Street, but concerns due to noise and the site itself sparked plans for a new location.

Claims of bias; environmental, noise, traffic, and aesthetic impacts; as well as greenhouse gasses, hydrology, wetland intrusion and concerns over traffic safety were presented by the Mt. Shasta Tomorrow group, including Dale LaForest, Betty Kreeger, Peggy Risch, Johanna Altorfer, and Vicki Gold, who filed an appeal of the project.

Opponents claimed that City Manager Bruce Pope and members of the planning commission had preconceived notions regarding the project entering the public hearing. There were also concerns raised about potential Brown Act violations, and a flawed Conditional Use Permit and mitigated negative declaration studies for the project which project opponents believe need to be re-done once more involving CEQA.

Lucchesi told city councilors that the wetlands would not be disturbed, and that the project had been reviewed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the state Water Quality Control board, amongst others. 

Opponent said they were not against expansion of the school,  but claimed that there were many issues the city was overlooking in regards to location, ease of access and overall impacts.

Speaking first for project opponents was Mount Shasta resident Betty Kreeger. "It's not about opposing the school, it's about the environment issues, noise, aesthetics, air quality," and location in vicinity to the freeway and the hospital, she said.

Kreeger said it's unfair that people who live in Eskaton were not notified of the project because they are not listed as on tax assessor records. "Just because residents are not property owners doesn’t mean they should be excluded," she told the councilors.

"We all understand it's a special school," said Vicki Gold during public comment. "To put a metal building in a main view of two city exits is an abomination in many people's minds."

More:Mount Shasta City Council decides against fines for businesses who defy mask mandate

More:'We show that we are human:' Mount Shasta Police Department focuses on community oriented policing

Gold also raised concerns about environmental quality, safety and health of the children, and claimed that if if were anything else but a school, she believes it would have been denied by the planning commission.

Johanna Altorfer, who lives on Pine Street, said the building would be an "eyesore." Altorfer went on to note that there are perennial creeks and ponds in the proposed location, which would be adversely affected during construction.

Golden Eagle staff, parents and leaders were present at the hearing to present their case as well. Golden Eagle Charter School Director Shelly Blakely noted that the project wasn't rushed as appellants had claimed, and has been carefully planned.

Blakely said while project opponents claimed having spent more than $700 on their appeal, Golden Eagle has spent close to  $100,000 since initially proposing their expansion in 2018. 

Teachers and staff noted that their current facility, located off of south Mount Shasta Blvd., is too small for their current student body, and is unsafe for students who walk or bike to school everyday. The speed limit on that area of Mt. Shasta Blvd. is 35 miles per hour, with little to no sidewalk options.

According to Micah NeVille, Program Manager at Golden Eagle, the school has the second largest student body in the county, with a location in Yreka and in Mount Shasta. "A one size fits all education doesn't work," NeVille said. "By approving this the council will be investing in all of its kaleidoscopic kids."

Project opponent Peggy Risch noted that the issues were not with the school, but the environment. "It's about CEQA, mitigation plans, conditional use permits, environmental laws and city regulations, including federal regulations and where there has been failure to uphold them."

Risch claimed that she and other opponents have spent time researching the project because they love the environment, and because "under the city's own guidelines, the general plan asks that you conserve and protect wetlands."

After public comment and discussion, councilors John Stackfleth, Tim Stearns, Tessa Montgomery, John Redmond and Jeffrey Collings voted unanimously to affirm the planning commission's previous approval and the preliminary architectural design application. The motion was made by Stackfleth, and was seconded by Stearns. The preliminary design application was approved on the basis that the planning commission correctly applied city findings for approval, and state findings for CEQA documents. 

More:Mount Shasta parents fight for elementary students to return to classrooms

More:One hurdle for COS students? Housing. Here's how the school is planning to help

Directly following a brief recess, councilors met once more to discuss the approval of the tentative parcel map, which would consolidate 10 privately held parcels and city right-of-ways, and would divide the existing parcel into two. 

In exchange for the right-of-ways, the school would grant the city public service easements and would guarantee public non-motorized access through one parcel from Pine to Cedar Street.

Johanna Altorfer raised concerns and asked the city to use Cedar Street rather than Pine Street for main access.

"We're going to look like Los Angeles on Pine Street," said Altorfer. "I think the city should be wise in how they use these land resources."

Developer and project manager Nick Trover said there was some "misinformation" about not following the rules as pertained to regulations, CEQA and studies related to the project. "We follow every rule there is, and will follow specifically about right of ways," he said.

Council member Stearns raised concerns about losing the right-of-ways if the project didn't come to fruition, however, Trover said in that case, the right-of-ways could be dedicated back to the city.

Stearns made a motion to approve the map with some added conditions to the wording and the resolution itself, but after a second from Collings, the motion died with a 3-to-2 vote. 

Stackfleth then moved to approve the recommended motion as is. This was seconded by Montgomery and passed 4-1, with Stearns voting no.