Open Mind School (OMS), my daughter’s fantastic new school in Redwood City, was being kicked out of its current location by Oracle’s childcare provider and then lost its new location in Menlo Park to Facebook. Welcome to the cut-throat world of Silicon Valley real estate.
We had just over two months to figure out a solution or OMS would be homeless.
As a former land use attorney, it was the policy implications of the situation that struck me first. How could a nonprofit organization hope to compete with large, wildly successful for-profit tech companies that could afford to pay three times the market rate for real estate? This could not be the first time that this type of thing had happened. How many “little guys” had lost out when outbid by Oracle, Facebook, of another tech giant? I wanted to stand before the Redwood City and Menlo Park City Councils and put them on notice. If nothing else, it would get OMS and its situation some free media coverage.
After the initial shock wore off, OMS parents were quick to organize a meeting. Never have I encountered a group of individuals more willing to fight to the proverbial death. Particularly for those of us with older children, there was no going back to public school.
The meeting was held at a parent’s home in Atherton. I have never been to Atherton. Let’s just say it’s probably safe to assume nearly everyone who lives there resides comfortably in the top two percent of wealthiest Americans. I felt horribly out of place as I parked my dirty twelve-year-old minivan outside the gated entrance.
Once I was in the casually elegant back yard, however, those differences fell away. This was a group of diverse individuals united by their desire to save a school that was, in a sense, saving their child. Money didn’t matter here.
We soon learned that OMS’s monthly lease at its current location was $40,000 per month. The figure made all of us gasp. No wonder the tuition at OMS was so high! Immediately most of us began viewing this as a two-pronged problem. OMS needed a lease for the short term, as well as the cash necessary to purchase a building for the long term. A permanent place with room to expand.
As we ate pizza and salad, we threw out ideas. It quickly became clear that this was an extremely well-educated and connected group. At the time it gave me hope. Later, it would sadden me that only the most educated and wealthy parents had the ability to enroll their children in a place like OMS. Why wasn’t this education available to all children with autism and other learning differences?
The group identified that it probably needed a grant writer. “I can do that,” I said. I had already explained about my experience as a public interest advocate.
“We may need someone to help with any conditional use permits or rezoning,” a father said.
“I can do that too. I used to work as an environmental and land use attorney.”
The guy next to me laughed. “Any other hidden talents?”
“I’m a pretty good editor.”
Which is how I ended up in charge of writing the mother of all advocacy letters to the Menlo Park landlord in hopes that we could sway his decision.
Wish us luck.
Until next time,