Op-Ed: The New Electronic Sign Going Up at Roosevelt School is Bad News for Neighbors

A resident who lives across from Roosevelt tells how upset he is that the school district never warns nearby homeowners of major changes they decide to make, that significantly affect them.


This letter was sent to Patch by a reader.

Have an op-ed or letter to the editor you'd like published on RedwoodCity-Woodside Patch? E-mail redwoodcity@patch.com.


My wife and I live on Vera Avenue across the street from Roosevelt Elementary.

This past summer, we learned - from a vinyl banner on the school's fence - that the district had converted it from a K-6 to a K-8.

When we contacted the school to find out why the neighborhood wasn't involved in any part of the decision making process, we were told that it's not the district (or school's) obligation to inform the neighborhood or get it involved.

After that, we got on friendlier terms with Roosevelt's principal, Patricia Girardi, and after receiving a tour of the school I asked her to please keep me informed of anything that will affect me or my neighbors.

So, fast-forward to now: near the end of last week Principal Girardi informed one other neighbor and myself that the school is going to install a new school sign on Vera (across from our home). The sign will be 7.5' tall by 8' wide and have a full color jumbotron-type screen (approx. 2' x 7') able to display pictures and type.

Again, the neighborhood wasn't consulted - just told.

Via e-mail I voiced concerns relating to the placement of an electronic messaging sign - the kind with the sole purpose of grabbing the eyes of passers-by whether walking or driving.

The City has installed traffic-calming speed humps on Vera and the school is currently working with the police department to address ongoing traffic issues around the school. My point was simple: the traffic situation has improved over the last couple of years; why erode that progress with a sign that flashes messages exactly in the spot where traffic, children, the crossing guard and a dead-end street meet?

Unfortunately, my concerns were not addressed. Instead I was assured by Superintendent Jan Christensen and the district's Director of Facilities, Donald Dias, that nothing bad has ever happened at another school's drop-off zone because of a marquee.

The other side to this for me and my neighbors: we don't want any part of our street to remind us of Las Vegas. And it's not an unreasonable request since Redwood City created a sign ordinance in 2007 that prohibits electronic/animated messaging signs. So, how then does the district get away with installing them in residential neighborhoods?

They have a tiny loophole: Public schools exist on state property and most planning codes and ordinances cities create as baseline standards for beautification don't have to be followed. Many schools will... but they don't have to. And the district has installed similar signs at a few other school sites, clearly in violation of Redwood City's sign ordinance.

I feel that cities make decisions like this based on data available that demonstrates the negative impact of hyper-visual-stimulation on people and their communities. And on a practical level: The primary thing I see from my kitchen window while I make dinner or do dishes is a group of trees (some of them redwoods), and the school behind. I don't want the primary thing I see to be a sign flashing messages. Yes, it's an aesthetic concern, but we as a community value our homes and the enjoyment we get from them.

I think of local government this way: it exists to protect people from untoward actions by others. I shouldn't have to worry or anticipate the crazy thing my neighbor might do that could affect my home or enjoyment of it. To put it simply: I believe City government will be there to protect me when my neighbor does something outlandish. But, there's a big exception when it comes to public school property - I have to hope that they'll keep me informed of their plans.

And, if they don't, as in the case of the electronic sign that will be installed any day now, then I can look forward to seeing that sign every day I live in my home. And when I see it, I'll also think back to the tour of Roosevelt when Principal Girardi told us that the library was underfunded and only open two days a week. I'll wonder why the PTA spent so much time and effort funding that sign instead of working on ways to keep the school library open five days a week.

- Douglas Heintz, Redwood City resident


What do you think of the concerns Mr. Heintz voiced in his letter? What do you think of electronic signs like that one going up at Roosevelt? Is it fair to the surrounding homes? Tell us your opinion in the comments below.


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Lou Covey, The Local Motive April 01, 2013 at 10:14 PM
Ok, so now we know this is not a jumbotron (in fact it is smaller than all similar signs in Redwood City), it wasn't paid for with taxpayer funds, the neighborhood was consulted on the placement and the homeowner it most directly affects has no problem with it. Sounds like every issue has been taken care of.
Cy Young award April 01, 2013 at 11:54 PM
Easy folks. First of all, the school admin. staff has enough to do preparing our future leaders while being grossly underpaid and working greater than 40 hours per week but they choose to do so because of their love of educating our youth. If you have a gripe, call the district office. Second, the schools are doing what they believe is the best for today's students not, yesterday's. Third, a school is an importnt part of a neighborhood's personality. It brings a neighborhood to life, keeps it youthful and full of hope in dreary times. Fourth, for most of you, the school was probably there first.
KMS April 02, 2013 at 12:04 AM
Why does an elementary school need such an elaborate sign system?
Jen April 02, 2013 at 03:09 AM
As the wife of the author of this op-ed, I feel compelled to chime in. First, I will say that we have appreciated efforts Principal Girardi has made to reach out to the neighborhood--she truly has addressed some traffic issues caused by pick-up/drop-off. It is due to this collaboration and communication that we felt very positive about our level of communication with the school. Like everyone else in the neighborhood, our interests are in seeing Roosevelt become the best school it can be. Whether or not an LED sign facing residential homes will aid in that effort seems to be up for debate, but as a teacher of sixteen years, I can say from my perspective, no, a sign is not anywhere near the core of students' achievement. Ultimately, I believe parents of students are as informed as they choose to be--and I have every confidence that the Roosevelt teachers and administration are reaching out to parents in many ways. Two households on our street were informed about the sign--one evidently said, "Sure" and the other is us--and we wanted to know more about the sign. When my husband spoke with all the neighbors on the street, none agreed with the idea of an electronic sign. However, electrical work began the next day, and concrete has been poured. It is interesting to learn here that the PTA has been raising money for this sign for three (!) years. In that three years' time, it's disappointing that no one chose to discuss this with the neighbors the sign affects.
Hector Camacho, Jr April 02, 2013 at 06:17 AM
While it’s disappointing to see the school treat its local neighbors so disrespectfully, the most disconcerting part is the reaction of the PTA and its condescending tone and hostility toward a genuine concern of Roosevelt neighbors. I, too, am a teacher and see first-hand some of the truly poor decisions made by school officials to “help the children.” As a parent, to see that misguided decisions are now being made by the PTA should be a call to arms for silent parents to come forward and demand a shift in priorities. A prettier marquee does not help address the systemic problems affecting local schools. In a digital age of ubiquitous communications means (not to mention the simple concept of sending messages home with students), it’s plain to see that these dollars could be much better spent. The current priorities of school officials are so completely disconnected from the true needs of students that residents are completely within their right to scrutinize decisions made on behalf of students that affect the community, and it is their duty to do so as engaged citizens. This is no simple NIMBY concern; it is a legitimate grievance that deserves immediate attention by elected officials. At a minimum this would include an immediate halting the marquee’s installation and a good faith effort by the district to address the concerns of the most impacted residents in an inclusive and respectful way that sees residents as neighbors rather than obstructionists.
Guy Taylor April 02, 2013 at 06:33 AM
For anyone who is interested in what the marquee actually looks like you can view it here .. http://rooseveltblog.ipage.com/wordpress/2013/04/01/roosevelts-new-school-sign/
J April 02, 2013 at 07:49 AM
Exactly. When I went to Roosevelt many, many years ago, my parents (both of whom worked full-time) managed to stay well-informed of academic and extra-curricular events, conference and holiday dates, etc. Elementary school communications are not so complicated that the school should need to infringe on the property of neighbors, and then be so snarky about those neighbors' concerns.
Sharon King April 02, 2013 at 03:04 PM
I just saw and read an updated comment that included a link to see what the sign will look like, and that was helpful; but I think the original comment/complaint the neighbor made was the lack of communication between the school admin. and the neighborhood.
Lou Covey, The Local Motive April 02, 2013 at 03:11 PM
I think the real issue is not the lack of communication, but that the decision after the communication went counter to the writer's wishes.
Lou Covey, The Local Motive April 02, 2013 at 03:23 PM
J, having volunteered in a much smaller school, I experienced that no matter how many newsletters, emails, notes home to the parents, websites and phone trees were employed, invariably 75 % of the parents would irately contact the school office to complain they had not been properly informed about picture day. The only way most parents will remember is if you grab the by the shoulders, give them a good shake and then scream the announcement in their face. Of couse then you get arrested for assault, but they do remember.
James April 02, 2013 at 04:46 PM
When you remodel your house – you are required to inform your neighbor on your left, right and behind. At that point they can protest what you are doing but can not deny your right to the project if you are not in violation of any city ordinance or code. You may have to move a window, plant a tree or change a roof line, but compromise is the end result. Opinions of aesthetics vary widely and you may hate the Greek columns or turquoise paint but – oh well. More to the point, if I install a giant homage to Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader, I can do so as long as it is not in violation of any city ordinance - I can do it regardless of what people think. In this case it appears to me that the school followed the rules, broke no law (loophole or not, it is the law), and went out of their way to minimize a perceived impact. So, just because this is a school, are the rules different? It seems to me that the school has really tried to work this out but has run into a wall with some of the neighbors.
Ron Talain April 02, 2013 at 04:50 PM
Also, when J went to Roosevelt "many, many years ago", there were much fewer pieces of information that needed to be communicated to parents than today. Back then, I'm sure they didn't have Star testing, ELAC meetings, E-waste dropoffs, Second Harvest pickups, SafeRoute meetings, not to mention the ever-increasing number of school community events that get added every year. In my opinion, the amount of communication between a school and parent can no longer be handled by sending it home in a flyer at the end of the week. If there are 5 different pieces of information that need to be conveyed to the parents, in a school of 400 students, that's 2000 sheets of paper that need to be stapled into a packet, hopefully by a volunteer, each week. That's a whole bunch of work (not to mention a lot of paper) that can be reduced with a simple electronic sign that can be programmed as easily as we sit here and type these comments.
Ron Talain April 02, 2013 at 04:57 PM
Thanks Guy for posting that link. By reading the blog post, it's clear that the Roosevelt PTA went through a lot of planning and consideration with regards to the sign. I think that everyone who commented or plans to comment should read it first. It may eliminate the desire for some to comment.
Ron Talain April 02, 2013 at 04:59 PM
This money didn't come from your taxes, but was raised by parents of the school children. If you want to have a say as to how it is spent, you would need to join the Roosevelt PTA.
Lou Covey, The Local Motive April 02, 2013 at 05:42 PM
James, I think you are assuming a bit much. This was not a remodel. This is a replacement of a sign. And the PTA clearly made the effort to reach out to to the neighborhood and let people know what is coming. The resident who is directly across from the sign has said he had no problem with the sign. If the school were putting up a five story building, you might have a point. This is the equivalent of landscaping, which does not require a city approval, unless you are removing a tree.
James April 02, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Lou - I agree. I was attempting to make a point that even an intense project such as a remodel, you are only required to inform those directly affected by the project. You would not have to, say - tell two blocks worth of neighbors what you were doing or get approval. In this case Douglas has tried to make the case that the school kept the neighborhood out of the loop on this project. My point is why should they even be in the loop on this? Seems to me that they did more then they had to and I have to wonder what comes next. Will he want to verify and approve the bell schedule as when it rings at certain times it interrupts his TV time? I have to say I also take a bit of offense that he hints at the fact that the school board is being dishonest or deceptive. That part bothered me as it clearly meant to stir the pot. It would appear that he searched for a way to say that Roosevelt broke the law and found out they didn't so in turn he hints at a deceptive "tiny loophole" that the school board and superintendent have used at this and other schools.
Lou Covey, The Local Motive April 02, 2013 at 06:54 PM
Ah, I should avoid commenting until I've finished my morning coffee. ;-) I also agree with your take on stirring the pot. There is a strong undercurrent in the community about the current school board members and district leadership. In some cases it may be valid, but most of it is just so much personality bashing that obscures real issues that should be and can be addressed.
Doug April 02, 2013 at 08:15 PM
A note from the Op-Ed author: I wrote the op-ed because I have little recourse as a community member: there is no independent judiciary to arbitrate this — only the school and the board. Unfortunately, the district has been installing electronic signs at other sites, so our goals are at odds. The only avenue open to us is neighborhood support (they are fantastic neighbors) and pressure via public support. Ideally when you live next to a neighborhood school, both work together for the betterment of the neighborhood. My neighbors and I want what's best for the school. To reiterate: the Principal informed one other neighbor and myself the day before the work began -- there was no community involvement as the sign and its placement had already been made. Every neighbor that I've spoken with on the two blocks of Vera bordering the school have expressed concerns regarding the sign. Contrary to what others have written, the electronic messaging portion of the sign will not affect only one house. This is fact. To clarify: the school and district are not ignorant of the law. To the contrary, they know Redwood City's laws regarding electronic signs and choose to not follow them. If they did, this wouldn't be an issue. I know of only 3 elementary schools that have these signs — ours is #4. Homeowners near schools be ready for more electronic signs. I'm all for a new sign for the school -- one that complies with our community's sign ordinance. Thank you. -Douglas Heintz
Jeni April 03, 2013 at 01:21 AM
This question is for the author, Mr. Heintz, or anyone else who can answer this. The author of this Op-Ed is a resident living across from this school (and I'm assuming, not a parent of a child who attends there). He wrote that "This past summer, we learned that the district had converted it from a K-6 to a K-8. When we contacted the school to find out why the neighborhood wasn't involved in any part of the decision making process, we were told that it's not the district (or school's) obligation to inform the neighborhood or get it involved." Now, I totally get why any residents in this neighborhood would be upset if a garish and bright neon sign were erected and became an eyesore, especially without considering the neighbors' input. However, I would like to know why any neighbor would have a problem with the school being converted to a K-8, from a K-6. This author says he doesn't know why the neighborhood wasn't involved in the decision making process...I honestly would like to know, how does it negatively affect you? Why would the school contact the neighbors? If the school has students coming and going at 3 PM everyday, how or why would it affect you if suddenly there are 6th and 7th graders? I'm not trying to pick a fight or be nasty, I genuinely just don't understand how a school changing this grade levels would affect the nearby neighborhood. Can anyone offer insight? Thanks.
Ellen Fitz April 03, 2013 at 06:50 AM
Jeni: My guess is that when you expand to include middle-school age children, you now have a large group of students ranging in age from 11-14 who are most likely on their own (unsupervised) when school gets out to get themselves from school to their next location. That often involves a lot of hanging out around the school but off school property (i.e. around the neighborhood homes), a lot of loud bantering (and often inappropriate language), some littering, and other problems. I live next to the Red Morton Rec Ctr which also attracts this age range so I know a bit about this. I know these behaviors are pretty routine and I just offer this up as the possible insight you were asking for.
Buck Shaw April 03, 2013 at 02:29 PM
In the name of "The Poor Children" don't forget to vote FOR the new Bond Issue coming up in the next election. The schools "Need" your money....
Buck Shaw April 03, 2013 at 02:40 PM
Who pays for the energy consumed by the sign. However small who pays? Isn't the old sign an Eco friendly sign. Doesn't it employ a good union member? This whole thing is rediculous... Send the parents one of those email alerts the school so often talks about... Don't they all get email on there phone?
Ron Talain April 03, 2013 at 03:02 PM
In response to Buck Shaw, there are a fair number of parents who don't have e-mail; many do not own a computer. There are also many parents that do not own a smart phone, so can't get e-mails that way either. And the old sign was eco-friendly and perhaps run by a "good union member" (although probably underpaid and overworked), but technology marches on. I'm sure many people were upset when they replaced real people (probably good union members also) directing traffic at intersections with those obnoxious and energy-sucking stoplights.
Debbie Moore April 03, 2013 at 03:15 PM
I'm not a Roosevelt parent, but I feel that your open letter was really whiny and controlling. Why does the school have to notify you about every single design change they decide to do? They are not putting up a large, obnoxious "Jumbo-tron" and I believe they have good reasons to install it. Roosevelt school has a lot of really busy parents who work outside the home. The message board will be a way for the school to convey important announcements and I am sure those parents will be happy to have it at the drop-off point at their school. If you want to get involved to the extent you seem to, join their PTA and you will learn everything that is going on at the school. The principal at that school has made some excellent changes that have only strengthened the school community and I am so impressed with her. The fact that you alluded to your neighborhood being turned into Las Vegas I feel was a cheap shot at the school and very misleading. They are trying to be very respectful of the neighbors by having it on until 6pm which I think is reasonable since many children there are in the after school program and get picked up at that time. YOU chose to buy your house across the street from a school. These are busy centers of our community. If you don't like it, get off your computer, volunteer there, and use your time to build a bridge with the community and be part of the solution in your neighborhood instead of tearing it down.
Buck Shaw April 03, 2013 at 04:43 PM
Ron; Hey I would have thought you would pick up on my thread. But here goes to start a big brewhaha. No excuess for not haveing Obama phones. I don't buy (pun intended) your suggestion of no phone. I do believe though that no matter what you do some people don't get the word. But schools and teachers are not sacred either. Did you know that school didn't have fire sprinklers un till about 1990 and then only in corridors and exitways not classrooms. I'm not sure because I haven't been in a RC class room in a few years but they were not sprinklered then. Just the exit ways. If you really care about the "Children" why not pay for that instead PTA?
Ron Talain April 03, 2013 at 05:07 PM
Buck, I didn't say "no phones", I said that many parents have phones that are not "smart phones", meaning they do not receive e-mail, only calls and text messages. And I have no idea what an "Obama phone" is. Smart phones (the kind that receive e-mail are usually much more expensive than flip phones and have a significantly more expensive monthly plan. Some parents simply cannot afford them. As for the PTA paying for sprinklers instead of a sign, others have correctly noted here that capital expenses (such as sprinkler systems) are paid for by bonds provided by the state, and the PTA is not ALLOWED to pay for such things, even if they wanted to.
Buck Shaw April 03, 2013 at 06:41 PM
Ron; I'm not sure but if capital expenses are provided by state bonds then what capital expenses are provided by local Bonds? Your point on phones is well taken. Obama phones were free as I understood it. To those who couldn't afford one.
Lou Covey, The Local Motive April 03, 2013 at 06:53 PM
Buck, I can jump into this because communication is my business. There is no one way to effectively communicate with an audience. There are not two, or three or four ways either. In order to effectively communicate with your audience in today's media saturated world is to use as many ways as you possibly can. The city currently uses email, press releases, websites, video and snail mail to get out information about meetings and hearings and events, yet the majority of the population still tunes out all of it until a decision is made and then everyone screams that they weren't told. Everyone has their own selective means for accepting information, and most of the mentally screen out anything and everything on a daily basis. While this sign may not be the most effective means for getting in the face of parents and students, it is one effective way of doing it. The question that needs to be asked is, which is more important: attending to the needs of hundreds of families using the school, or pleasing the aesthetic sensitivities of a few residents?
Ron Talain April 03, 2013 at 07:37 PM
Buck, I'm not sure which bond measures are used to fund capital expenses (state or local); I just wanted to point out that PTA isn't allowed to pay for those kinds of improvements. I had to google Obama phone, but did find out that they are "basic phones", and not smart phones (unless you want to pay for an upcharge). And to Lou's point about serving the school community first, I don't think there are any negative comments about the sign by parents whose kids actually attend Roosevelt. I would wager that the majority of families that attend Roosevelt welcome the new sign, and see it as money well spent, and those families are the ones that would be the most vocal about misspending of PTA funds.
John Foley April 04, 2013 at 10:40 PM
If Mr. Camacho is a RWC teacher, he will surely be hunted for voicing his cohesive opinion. The district does not care about the neighborhood. Just wait until you see what middle schoolers bring to your 'hood. Changes need to be made at Bradford.


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