Kate Cagle
Daily Press Staff Writer

Traffic and development surrounding the Expo Line on the eastern edge of Santa Monica are fueling neighborhood opposition to a preschool on a quiet, residential street near Ishihara Park.

Tonight, the City Council will weigh the City’s objective to expand early childhood learning opportunities in the 90404 zip code with residents’ demands for a quiet street.

“Over time, this is only going to accumulate traffic and parking problems,” said Brian O’Neil, whose wife filed a 160-page appeal after the Planning Commission approved a Conditional Use Permit for 2953 Delaware Avenue, dismissing neighborhood concerns as classic NIMBYism.

Walkability to the Expo Line and nearby parks attracted a former McKinnley Elementary School teacher to the street to open her first preschool.

Laila Taslimi envisions her staff taking small groups of three, four and 5-year-olds on the train to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market for fresh produce to cook in their classroom kitchen.

“It’s a way I can put my knowledge and expertise toward a community need,” said the former member of the Childcare Early Education Task Force.

Taslimi says only about a third of students will pay full tuition, the rest will be eligible for scholarships from her non-profit in order to bring quality early education to low income families.

She hopes nearby businesses will financially support the school by contributing to scholarship funds.

After extensive remodeling, the 1,500 square foot home will serve up to 20 children with four classrooms and two outdoor play areas between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.

The CUP will allow a five-foot fence around the front yard to keep students safe and muffle the sound of children playing.

Taslimi is seeking to enter a quiet neighborhood that has already seen significant change over the last ten years – with even more on the horizon.

Neighbors failed in their fight against the Expo Line maintenance yard between their neighborhood and Olympic Boulevard.

Along with the industrial facility, the trains have changed traffic patterns and attracted new businesses.

“Cities have to grow and I understand that and I’ve made space in my heart for that,” said Robert Sturman who lives next to the proposed preschool.

Sturman has lived on the street for nearly 20 years and regrets not fighting the maintenance yard. “I lay in my bed at two, three, four o’clock in the morning hearing the most excruciating squeaking noise.

They have been abusive, insensitive and stupid and ignorant to our needs and it’s got to stop. And it stops here.”

While few homes have decorated for the holiday season, nearly every neighbor on Delaware Avenue has placed yellow flags that say, “Preserve our Neighborhood” on their lawns.

Neighborhood activists gathered at O’Neils home where art created by his own preschool-aged children provided the backdrop.

It was 8:30 a.m. and few cars parked underneath the leafy ficus tree branches that stretch and shade the street.

“Quiet enjoyment,” said neighbor Christine Parra. “That is our right.”

If the council denies the appeal, parents escorting their young children to school will soon park along the street. A City report estimates the school will add a maximum of 26 trips in the morning and the evening.

The Traffic Engineering Division has not studied the neighborhood since the Expo Line opened in the area. In response to concerns, the school will develop a plan to stagger drop-off and pick-up times.

Like residents fighting preschool plans in other parts of the City, the Gandara Park neighbors give a caveat that they are not against early childhood education. But to Taslimi, the fight is about access.

“I hear those arguments and I hope people will take the time to say what they are for – if they are for being left alone in a sanctuary environment in the equivalent of a gated community, those people should be forthcoming about their vision for the neighborhood,” Taslimi said, who believes she will be able to change her neighbors’ minds about the school once it is up and running.

For example, opponents say noise from the preschool will disrupt the quiet lives of nearby neighbors, some of whom are nearing their 100 birthdays.

The activists claim 45 percent of those living within a quarter mile of the proposed school are over 65 years old. To Taslimi, it’s an opportunity to build a bridge between generations.

“We look forward to getting to know and interacting with our elderly neighbors, bringing them things we prepare in our kitchen, listening to their stories, there are many things that can bring joy to both generations,” Taslimi said.

“This is our vision for our preschool.”

kate@smdp.com

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