The Sonoma City Council had two thorny issues to tackle Monday night, with the first – a vote to grant Valley of the Moon Nursery School an 18-month lease – drawing dozens of concerned citizens to the Community Meeting Room.
Those citizens were the operators, parents of students, former parents of students or, in at least one case, former students of the nursery school, located in a city-owned building at 136 Mission Terrace.
Originally placed on the consent calendar, the item to approve an 18-month lease was pulled for discussion after school treasurer Robyn Lely stepped forward to air some grievances.
Lely said the city’s proposed year-and-a-half lease puts the school in an unstable position, and he asked them to consider a five-year lease instead.
“Do we have to go through all this over again after 18 months?” he asked council members. “Would you, as a parent, want to register your child at a school that is ‘on borrowed time’?”
Several others followed behind with entreaties to the council.
“It would be a disservice to have this school have to move – if they even can move,” said Katie Giller, a mother of three young boys. The school has been in operation there for about 30 years.
“I personally went to Valley of the Moon, and it’s heartbreaking” to think of it closing, said Connie Lawson, her voice cracking with emotion.
The outpouring seemed to catch council members a little off guard, with Mayor Tom Rouse saying he believed the lease had been proposed “in good faith,” and adding, “I don’t think an 18-month lease is a nail in the coffin either.”
“I don’t think the integrity or the worth of this school is in question,” said Councilmember Laurie Gallian, adding later that, “The city’s responsibility, as I understand it” is to bring the building up to code.
For the city, issues surrounding the aging Mission Terrace structure, a.k.a. the Youth Center Building, include a variety of upkeep matters and making the building compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act – improvements that Councilmember Steve Barbose estimated at around $50,000.
“The City of Sonoma is not a good landlord,” Councilmember David Cook said. “We probably shouldn’t be in the landlord business.”
At the end of the discussion, council members unanimously went along with staff recommendations in approving the 18-month lease. Councilmember Ken Brown also suggested to nursery operators that they come back to the council in 12 months so that both sides can see how things are going.