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.

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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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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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