St. Mary’s College High to expand after mediation

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There have been five public hearings since 2011, and five mediation sessions since last November, concerning the expansion and renovation plans of St. Mary’s College. Photo: St. Mary’s College High School

St. Mary’s College High School got the go-ahead last Wednesday for its master plan to add two buildings and renovate others. The move followed six months of mediation with its North Berkeley neighbors.

The private Catholic college preparatory high school sits on 12.5 acres, surrounded by about 100 homes in North Berkeley and Albany. Although St. Mary’s has a Berkeley street address — 1294 Albina Ave. — it actually sits on the Albany side of the line, so it was Albany’s Planning and Zoning Commission that approved the master plan and a conditional use permit.

The plan for the school of about 600 students includes:

  • A new music building of 13,400 square feet, to replace the much smaller current one;
  • A new campus chapel, 4,400 square feet, single-story;
  • A 14,000-square-foot addition to St. Joseph’s Hall (classrooms, library and offices);
  • A larger kitchen at the student center;
  • A new drainage plan.

At this time, St. Mary’s has only enough money to replace the music building, according to Vivian Kahn, planning consultant to the school. That construction is not likely to begin before summer 2014, she said. The rest of the master plan could take “10 to 15 years – or more” to build, Kahn said. “They need to raise money as they go.”

It’s been a long process already: in 2006, the school submitted a larger plan, withdrew it in 2008, and submitted the current, scaled-back plan in 2011. Five public hearings were held since 2011, and five mediation sessions since last November.

“We’re thrilled that the planning commission approved it,” said Kahn. However, she continued, the school is now waiting to see if the neighborhood group is going to appeal the decision to Albany’s City Council.

One major concern of neighbors, over many years, has been the traffic generated by the students, especially on small Albina. (There are two other drop-offs on the east and north sides of campus, on Monterey and Posen.)  Parking during weekend events at the school is also an issue.

As a result of the mediation, St. Mary’s will pay $25,000 for a traffic consultant and improvements. That work has to be completed before the music building can be used, said Albany City Planner, Anne Hersch.

Another issue was was that the new, larger music building might mean more noise. An agreement was struck that if that occurred, the school would close the building after 6 p.m.

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An arial photo of the St. Mary’s College High School campus, which has a Berkeley mailing address but is actually located in Albany

One of the largest concerns remaining to the Peralta Park Neighborhood Association – the residents of Albina and nearby streets – is the chapel proposed to sit on the edge of campus by Albina, along the Codornices Creek.

The worry has been that the chapel would be used outside of school purposes, such as for weddings on weekends, generating more traffic outside school hours.

In response, St. Mary’s proposed to stipulate, in writing, that it will limit outside events at the chapel to two per year. That sounds like a solution, but the neighborhood group wants the City of Albany to make that a requirement for the permit. Albany will not do so.

“When it comes to limitations (on the chapel), we get into potential legal problems” with religious land use laws, said Craig Labadie, the city attorney, at the meeting.

Donna DeDiemar, a leader with the neighborhood association, is frustrated with the city’s stance on the chapel, because, she said, it doesn’t protect the agreement in the future.

“We know from experience that everybody’s best intentions aren’t good enough, because the players change. The conditional use permit has to be specific and clearly understood,” DeDiemar said.

The neighborhood group presented several more changes it wanted at at the September 11 meeting: clarifying the school’s maximum enrollment, which is somewhat vaguely worded, and reimbursing neighbors, should they experience flooding due to the new buildings on the school’s hillside location.

In the end, the Albany commission made just one requested change, eliminating a reference to threatened litigation, but did not respond to the other requests.

The 20-some neighbors who attended the Wednesday meeting were clearly frustrated. As they left, they complained that the permit was approved without further discussion. As of Friday, DeDiemar said, she did not yet know whether the group would appeal the commission’s decision to the Albany City Council.  The deadline for an appeal is Sept. 25.

Read city documents relating to St. Mary’s.

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • ajb

    Headline of this story is in error. It says St Mary’s College. That college is in Moraga. St Mary’s College High School is the subject.

  • emraguso

    Thank you for catching this.

  • Jeff Leyser

    I live in this neighborhood (you can see my house in the photo), and I’m with Donna. I don’t care too much about the other stuff, but the idea of the Chapel being using on the weekends will have a HUGE impact on parking around here. We already get overflow from Monterey Market, and any night the school holds an event, my street is overflowing with cars. Sad the Albany Commision won’t enforce the rule. I trust St. Mary’s for now, but the pressure to use the chapel to pull in some money could outweigh the good intentions they currently profess.

  • NAParish

    … and the FB posting for this refers to St. Mary’s in Berkeley — instead of St. Mary’s in Albany.

  • emraguso

    Are we splitting hairs yet? The street address is in Berkeley and much of the property is in Albany — though I’m not sure that the entire property is in Albany. It’s on the border of both communities, and many of the impacts are going to be felt by North Berkeley neighbors, so that’s the neighborhood we highlighted in our Facebook post.

  • Vladislav_Davidzon

    Dang. Six hundred kids being brainwashed to be little unquestioning drones. These Taliban-style schools are where both science and really democracy itself goes to die. Meanwhile, I bet this zoo is tax-exempt too, huh? How much tax revenue are the city and state losing from this nonsense?

  • guest

    Oh wow.You went there.
    As a formerly brainwashed child myself, I share your sentiments.

  • Just Sayin

    >Taliban-style school

    Nobody’s being taught to strap on explosive vests here.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Is it time for permit parking in the nearby neighborhood?

  • susiefisch

    Any Berkeley citizen whose home is within a block of a public or private school in this town has to deal with extra cars on their street for evening events at the school. I assume you were paying attention when you moved in, and knew that a school was nearby. There are also plenty of small churches in Berkeley that lack big parking lots, and have plenty of inconvenienced neighbors as well.

    Living in an urban environment means dealing with street parking, noise and traffic problems. If you want lots of space, quiet neighbors, and no traffic, there’s always the countryside.

  • Vladislav_Davidzon

    The opposition of the Church to condoms has killed exponentially more people than any explosive vest – or all explosive vest ever, really, combined. Far worse.

  • Vladislav_Davidzon

    Well and then there is of course the risk of all the extra child molesters from this zoo running amok around your neighborhood, right?

  • Guest

    Oh Berkeleyside: how’s that moderating policy work again? Did you really pass the scurrilous and hateful remarks about St. Mary’s that are posted here?

  • emraguso

    We’re asking people to be more respectful of EACH OTHER. Institutions, public figures, Berkeleyside itself — there’s more leeway as far as criticism.

  • Guest

    So, a remark implying that all RC priests are child molesters is just fine, but telling a B’side editor that she is being “a bit disingenuous” is disrespectful? Are you sure that you aren’t just making up and discarding the rules as you go along, or in other words “moderating” the comments in an arbitrary, capricious, and opaque fashion?

  • emraguso

    Both comments were approved so it’s not even clear to me what you’re asking. Neither one was moderated. Responding to a rude personal comment in one case has nothing to do with approving a comment about someone’s opinion about a large institution. As I said before, there are different standards as far as criticism (as is the case with libel, etc.) for individuals vs. institutions and public figures. And, no, I’m not making that up.

  • berkeleyparent

    Uh: many of them are, and are not registered or prosecuted.
    Since the institution is protecting the criminals, we have to protect our kids.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I think the distinction you are making is valid. It makes sense to moderate by removing personal insults that one commenter aims at another, so the discussion in comments can be more civil and productive, but not to remove similar insults aimed at public figures or at large institutions.

    But I think you also need a policy on hate speech. I think that if someone posted a racist or anti-Semitic comment, you would remove it because it is hate speech – even if it is not an insult directed at a commenter.

    How about calling a Catholic school in Albany a “Taliban-style school”? Is that hate speech?

    From Wikipedia’s article “Taliban”:
    The Taliban and their allies committed massacres against
    Afghan civilians, denied UN food supplies to 160,000 starving civilians and
    conducted a policy of scorched earth, burning vast areas of fertile land and
    destroying tens of thousands of homes during their rule from 1996 to 2001.

    It is difficult to weigh freedom of speech against hate speech, so I am just suggesting that Berkeleyside should come up with a clear definition of hate speech that will be removed from the site, if it doesn’t already have one.

  • Guest

    Let’s be clear here. The “a bit disingenuous” remark was a direct response to Tracey Taylor’s statement that B’side had withheld “one or two” comments in the preceding week. If you think that phrase is rude, you are either extraordinarily sensitive, or confused about its literal meaning. I note that you haven’t actually claimed that the withholding has amounted to only “one or two”; instead you seem to be irritated that someone has pointed out the discrepancy. You withheld my response to your intemperate response, etc. (http://www.berkeleyside.com/2013/09/18/berkeley-to-investigate-unfair-employment-practices/)

    As I said in the post you withheld, I’m all for civil discourse. If you are too, why you would be willing to leave overtly bigoted material posted here?

    On a related point, your mention of libel causes me to wonder if B’side, or anyone else posting here, has been accused of that. I have a reasonable understanding of the principles, and as far as I know libel has to defame a person (rather than some anonymous commenter) in some way that damages him or her, and it has to be false.

  • Guest

    So if “many” of them are, then all of them should be accused?

    It is a gross oversimplification to say that the RC Church is protecting pedophile priests.

    And how does preventing St. Mary’s from expanding serve to protect your kids?

  • guest

    “Berkeleyside should come up with a clear definition of hate speech that will be removed from the site,”

    That will just make a game of it and anonymous trolls thrive on those kinds of games. The same thing for bright-line rules about bullying among commenters.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Note that she said “As I said before, there are different standards as far as criticism (as is the case with libel, etc.) for individuals vs. institutions and public figures.”

    The most obvious meaning of this statement is that Berkeleyside has different standards for criticism of individuals and of public figures and institutions, as the libel laws have different standards for criticism of individuals and of public figures and institutions.

    I don’t see where the statement has anything to do with whether any commenter on Berkeleyside has been accused of libel.

  • Guest

    Yes, but if libel isn’t the issue here, then why is it necessary to stick to those standards, and only those standards? Hate speech isn’t always libelous, but it poisons the conversation nonetheless.

    Furthermore, given some of the strange goings on in recent B’side comment threads, and the tone of some the comments emanating from The Pseudonymous One or his associates (see the string linked above) I am wondering if someone has made accusations of libel, perhaps in some place where B’side readers couldn’t see them (such as a withheld post).

  • emraguso

    Nope.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Do you suggest:
    – that they should never remove any hate speech? If someone posts a comment that is nothing but a string of racist epithets, they should leave it up?
    – that they should remove hate speech without having a clear definition of it and just going with their feelings? If someone posts epithets about one ethnic group that offends them, they should remove it, but if someone posts
    epithets about another ethnic group that does not offend them, they
    should not remove it?

    The only alternative to these two very bad alternatives is to have a clear definition of what hate speech they will remove.

    Note:I don’t mean that they have to make the definition public, so trolls
    can play games with them. I mean that they need a clear definition in
    their own minds.

  • guest

    > “Do you suggest: …[two silly alternatives]”

    No.

    > “The only alternative to these two very bad alternatives is ….”

    I’m not persuaded of that.

  • Guest

    Further to this conversation, I have found your Comments policy (on the “About” page), and it states that “We will delete or censor any comment that:”; one of the bullet points that follows is “promotes hate of any kind”. It is difficult to see how such a policy would not include the above remarks from “Vladislav_Davidzon” directed at the RC church.

    If you have a Comments policy, presumably it is to serve not only as a guide to those who are posting comments, but to the people who are moderating them. You do not seem to be following your own policy: you are willing to pass comments that violate the policy, but withhold or remove comments that do not. Hence my suspicion that you are following your policy (or not) in an “arbitrary, capricious, and opaque” fashion.

  • Charles_Siegel

    So, tell us what that other alternative is.

    It seems to me that only three alternatives are logically possible:
    –No removal of hate speech.
    –Removal of hate speech without a clear definition of what it is.
    –Removal of hate speech with a clear definition of what it is.

    Incidentally, Berkeleyside’s comments policy says:
    “We will delete or censor any comment that:… promotes hate of any kind”
    which really leaves only two alternatives:

    They can have a clear definition of the hate speech they remove, or not.

  • The_Sharkey

    I would like to nominate this comment by Vladislav Davidzon for the Most Hyperbolic Berkeleyside Comment of 2013 Award.

  • The_Sharkey

    I have to agree with these comments.
    It’s super gross and really lame that Berkeleyside is allowing these kinds of comments while deleting others that are far less offensive.

    If someone made a comment about a Synagogue being a den of pedophile Rabbis who were training children to be terrorists the comments would almost certainly be deleted or moderated. I’m not a fan of Christianity or the Catholic Church but this pretty out of hand.

  • guest

    I was replying to your claim that if they lack a “clear definition” then the only choice is

    “just going with their feelings? If someone posts epithets about one ethnic group that offends them, they should remove it, but if someone posts epithets about another ethnic group that does not offend them, they should not remove it?”

    There are ways to get by without a “clear definition” besides “going with their feelings”.

    I think you unjustly used “just going with their feelings” as a pejorative to insist on a “clear definition”. There are more alternatives available.

    The drawback of a “clear definition” is that it can be gamed. Think of little kids playing “I’m not touching you” in the back seat of a car.

    Perhaps they could find ways to listen to the community, particularly to parts of the community their policies have driven off from participating.

    Rather than trying to codify a specific law about what is or is not hate speech, they can consider instances and patterns as they come up.

    They can consider such factors as the likely effect of a comment on others; it’s role (or lack of role) in advancing the discourse; and its contextual relationship to the social dynamics of the communities of Berkeley.

    That’s not an easy course, though, in the sense that it requires developing and demonstrating empathy for a wide range of viewpoints and variety of people.

    In my opinion, the legitimacy of the judgment of moderators won’t come down to “clear definitions” or to just the personal “feelings” of the moderators. It will come down to how the outcome of their moderating looks to the wide variety of reasonable perspectives we have around town.

  • berkeleyparent

    >if someone made a comment about a synagogue…
    But they don’t, because they have no reason to.
    Sadly, the Catholic Church has many, many scandals about this issue, not the least of which is protecting perpetrators, transferring them to different schools and whatnot.
    I think it is actually a very valid point.

  • No Name

    It sure takes you a whole lot of words to say that you want views you disagree with silenced. There’s only one person who’s ever been barred from posting on Berkeleyside as a result of the moderating policies and the site is better off without them. Anyone else who wants to say something is free to be a part of the discussion.

  • emraguso

    This conversation has gotten pretty far off track. We’d appreciate it if you can stick to the topic above.

  • Hyper_lexic

    You have got to be kidding me. I’m no fan of the papal hierarchy, but St. Mary’s school seems to be an open minded, intellectually free example of catholic education.

    I interviewed to be a science teacher there when i graduated from college; I was pretty clear that I am queer, they had no issue with that, and the people I interviewed with seemed very smart and open minded.

  • Guest

    If you had followed your own Comments policy, it wouldn’t be an issue. The topic was a pretty innocuous neighborhood issue until one individual interjected with some material that seems to “promote hate”. You haven’t seen fit to “moderate” those remarks, and it all flows from that.

  • Guest

    Nice to hear from The S. I was afraid that you might have been “moderated”.

  • emraguso

    I disagree. Multiple commenters expressed their frustration with “the church” — criticizing an institution, as I’ve said before, has a much higher bar for allowable free speech than criticism of an individual or even of a group of individuals.

    At that point in time it would have been good of us to remind people to stick with the subject at hand, so I acknowledge that was a missed opportunity.

    The comments posted did not strike me as “hate speech” — in that they criticized an institution (“the church”) rather than a group of people, e.g. all Christians — the latter certainly would not have been approved. The comments didn’t even specifically relate to St. Mary’s, but to a much broader topic (in my reading). Whether or not you agree with the position the commenter took, I do not believe the comments are a violation of our policy.

  • Guest

    Well, they certainly seem less offensive – now that you have retrospectively removed the first and most offensive of the series.

    This whole string will now be somewhat baffling to anyone who happens upon it – “oh he was just rattling on about brainwashing, the Taliban, and condoms, what’s so terrible about that?”. And you will look so reasonable.

    In case some newcomers are mystified about just what comments have sparked this kerfuffle, I will point out that you removed a wholly gratuitous comment implying that RC priests in general are pedophiles and a danger to children in the surrounding community. The comments may not look like “hate speech” now, but they did before you decided (under pressure) to “moderate” them.

  • emraguso

    I don’t know which comment was first or which people were responding to, as there were several. I was just scanning through after posting my last comment and that one did seem over the line so I removed it.

  • Guest

    And just what class would that be? Seems to me we have a had a pretty vigorous, if somewhat digressive, exchange on this thread. Impressive considering the rather humdrum topic of the article. Let’s see what happens when something juicy comes along.

  • Vladislav_Davidzon

    Now Sharkey, really. Is it actually hyperbole when the statement is completely factually accurate? The Church has been responsible for exponentially more deaths than the Taliban. That’s a historic fact, and I’m thinking just of their little Crusades event alone, which is hardly the only *known* crime against humanity that the Church has committed.

    How many suicide bomber explosive vest victims have there been through history? I doubt that figure to be higher than 25,000 people, particularly since high-yield explosives are a fairly new phenomenon. Surely you must be aware that exponentially more people have died of AIDS in places where the Church has actively campaigned against condom use, particularly internationally.

    The crimes of the Church stand on their own as historic facts. No hyperbole required here.