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School meeting turns raucous

The normally placid Sonoma school board meeting was anything but Tuesday night as opponents of a proposed athletic stadium at Sonoma Valley High were out in force – and the meeting degenerated into a shouting match.

School board member Gary DeSmet exchanged retorts with at least one audience member about whether or not the proposed stadium would harm or help property values for houses around the school. Opponents claim that it would harm their property values – one saying that values would go down by as much as $100,000. DeSmet, however, questioned the claim, saying the board had been told it would increase property values.

After both sides challenged the other to prove their claims, DeSmet ended the back-and-forth by pointing out that neither side was offering any empirical evidence.

About two-dozen stadium opponents attended the meeting as the school board was going to take a vote on accepting the high school Facilities Master Plan. More than one suggested that the school board remove the “Desired” elements of the Master Plan and just vote on the Mandatory, the Necessary and the Green Technology parts of the plan.

The Desired element of the plan includes, among other things, a performing arts center, a pool, athletic training rooms, a 2,500 seat stadium with a track and all purpose field, a new student services building and a new classroom building.

Neighbor Jane Wickland told the board that she applauds the facilities but doesn’t like the stadium proposal. “Vote for the Mandatory,” she said. “Put aside the desirables. If the stadium is approved with its noise and lights, real estate values will fall. This will have a dollar effect,” she said. And she told the board that football participation is showing declining numbers.

Bob Allbright told the board, “You’re shooting yourself in the foot. We’ll be paying for something that’s not needed.”

And Tom Sweeney said he empathizes with the students. “But the neighbors weren’t invited to the meetings,” he said. What about the neighbors’ quality of life? This is over the top.”

A dozen opponents took the podium to tell the board what it thought about the stadium proposal.

John Kelly was the lone voice in favor of the stadium concept. “Arnold Field is actually too short to be a football field,” he said. Kelly also pointed out that the stadium would be used for more than just football. “In the North Bay, girls soccer is moving to winter and you need an artificial surface to play in the winter. And the track team wasn’t able to host any meets this year because of the track.”

School Superintendent Louann Carlomagno told the audience that by approving the plan, it approves the concept. “The Desirable is much more than the stadium,” she said. “We don’t have anything prioritized.” And Steve Kwok, the district’s architect, told the crowd that any kind of stadium needs an Environmental Impact Review. “There’s a lot of work that goes into an EIR,” he said. And he added that there would be plenty of opportunity for comments during the EIR.

That was echoed by Carlomagno. “We welcome public comment,” she said. “But ultimately, we have to decide what’s best for our students.”

Board President Nichole Abate Ducarroz said the Master Plan is a concept.

“I’m looking at details,” she said. “I’ve learned that you have to put out a rough draft … this is the process,” she said. “Our shovels aren’t in the ground.”

Ducarroz said she would vote for the Master Plan. “I’m looking at what is in the best interest of the students,” she said.

Boardmember Sal Chavez, who is a graduate of Sonoma Valley High, said when he went to school, he thought it was kind of dumpy. “We have to adopt a plan that is so much more than a stadium. We have to keep the students in the forefront,” he said.

He pointed out that almost every other school in the league is getting a new stadium and facilities. “I needed sports to stay focused,” he said. “This isn’t for me. It’s for my son – and for his children.”

In the end, the board adopted the Facilities Master Plan on a 3-0 vote with Dan Gustafson and Britta Johnson absent.

In other action, the board approved the $44 million budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year that starts July 1. The board also approved the contract with the classified workers union; adopted the Local Control Accountability Plan; and adopted the Engineering and Architecture Pathway.