DUBLIN -- After more than a decade of pro-growth policies, combined with Gov. Jerry Brown's decision to squash a $9 billion school bond measure last fall, the chickens have come home to roost for rapidly growing Dublin -- its two middle schools are filled to near capacity, many elementary schoolchildren are spending their days in portables, and some parents are considering moving out of the city.
According to city leaders, school overcrowding -- and the tidal wave of residential development exacerbating the problem -- is the city's No. 1 issue. The situation is so dire, Dublin Councilman Abe Gupta said he supports a moratorium on home construction until the infrastructure is in place to handle the influx.
During open house tour of Kolb Elementary School in Dublin, Calif., on Aug. 21, 2011.
During open house tour of Kolb Elementary School in Dublin, Calif., on Aug. 21, 2011. (JIM STEVENS)
"We need to stop allowing developers to rezone land from commercial to residential," Gupta said. "We've had past councils that said yes to everybody, and all these units are producing children. Where are these kids going to go? We need to hit pause and study where we're at."
Incorporated in 1982, Dublin has grown by nearly 90 percent since 2000, making it among the fastest-growing cities in the state. Families are relocating in droves from Silicon Valley, San Francisco and elsewhere, lured by affordable, plentiful new homes and high-performing schools within commuting distance from urban tech centers.
Gupta said the problem will likely get worse before it gets better. The city has about 4,900 vested housing units in the pipeline waiting to be built.
The issue is taking East Dublin by storm. Hundreds of people packed Fallon Middle School Monday for a heated town hall meeting with district administrators and the District Optimization Committee, a group of parents, educators, school board members, and the school superintendent.
Margaret Liang, vice president for the Dublin Chinese Association and mother of 8-year-old twins, said she moved from Alameda to Dublin for the schools, but worries about where her kids will end up getting their education.
"Our message for the district is we need a long-term solution," Liang said. "Our city is growing too fast, and if they don't stand up and say we don't have the schools, we'll be in for a much bigger problem down the road."
Fallon is near its current capacity of 1,326 students and is expected to surpass that number by next school year, according to district projections. Dublin's other middle school, Wells, is projected to exceed its limits by 2019, as is Amador Elementary School, which doesn't open until this August. Dublin High, the city's only high school, has 2,044 students with projections as high as 3,333 students by 2019-20.
Krishna Shanmugam, a Google employee who chose Dublin over Cupertino for the schools, voiced his concerns to the City Council on Tuesday.
"I don't see how (the district) can provide quality education and an equitable learning experience with such a large crowd," he said. "How can you sign off on (new) construction when you don't have a plan for everything else?"
In March, the City Council took the unprecedented step of gifting two parcels of land, worth about $66 million, for new schools at Jordan Ranch and Dublin Crossing. The Jordan Ranch school is expected to be built by 2018, while Dublin Crossing will have to wait. In the meantime, the district is scrambling to come up with stopgap measures, such as adding portables at Fallon, making Jordan Ranch a K-8 school, and expanding Dublin High.
District Superintendent Stephen Hanke said with no more funding and no more land, the district can't build any more schools than are already planned, including a second high school.
"We're going to have some growing pains," Hanke said. "We ask for the patience of the community as we manage this growth, and we think we can get there."
Hanke added there's a "strong likelihood" the district will launch a school bond initiative for the 2016 ballot.
Dublin Mayor David Haubert said the city has a "de-facto moratorium" on home building until the school dilemma is solved.
"The rules of the game changed in a really unforeseen way," Haubert said. "We're sending the message loud and clear to the community that developers have to come up with a letter from the district that says we can accommodate your students."
Haubert added the city will continue to partner with the district to find more land.
"We are experiencing the growing pains of being a successful district," he said. "We are in a situation where the state isn't living up to its obligations to provide education so something has to happen."
The District Optimization Committee will meet June 15 to make recommendations to the Dublin School Board. The board is expected to take up the issue at its June 23 meeting.
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.