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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

Residents Oppose North Hills School

Local consortium wants house to be restored, designated as historic.

(This article has been updated from the original.)

A group of North Hills residents is pushing back against the planned construction of an elementary school at 15526 Plummer St., arguing instead for the restoration and historic designation of a house located on the property and the construction of a community park. The group of residents has organized under the banner of the North Hills Preservation Consortium and recently staged a protest at the plot of land, which is 2.1 acres in total. 

The consortium’s president, Debora Masterson, said that North Hills has enough elementary schools. She noted that the neighborhood has 12 elementary schools and that the planned school, Valley Academy Elementary, would be within a mile of Carlos Santana Elementary and Sepulveda Middle School. 

Valor Academy Elementary is currently in Arleta and is one of three Valley-region schools under the parent company of Bright Star Schools, a charter public school organization based in Westlake in Los Angeles. Its other two institutions, a middle school and a high school, are both located in North Hills.

In a release shared with the Business Journal by Bright Star Schools Executive Director Hrag Hamalian, the organization said it has the “full intention” of preserving the more than 100-year-old house that is on the property. “Our plans, recently presented to the neighborhood council, reflect that we are maintaining the house, and that it will be included in any plans submitted by Bright Star Schools to city officials,” the release said.

However, the preservation of the house is different from the outcome envisioned by the consortium.

“I would love to see a compromise, but I just don’t see one happening at this point,” Masterson said. “Their (plan) is that they are going to preserve the house, but that does not mean restoring the house. They have also stated in their preliminary plans to the city that they will use the house as administrative offices.”

Masterson is on the board of directors at the San Fernando Valley Historical Society and has worked as a teacher. The consortium also argued that focus should be shifted away from adding a school to the area and instead directed toward improving existing schools.

Instead of a new school, the consortium is seeking a place for the community to gather in the form of a public park, a small museum and a restored version of the house on the land. The park, according to Masterson, would be fenced and have particular hours of operation.

“(The consortium) is willing to form a nonprofit organization, if that would help the city,” Masterson said, adding that the society had used the nonprofit tactic to restore Andres Pico Adobe Park in Mission Hills.

The consortium is halfway through the process of getting the house designated as a historical-cultural monument, as the Cultural Heritage Commission has agreed to take the designation into consideration. Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez has submitted a letter to the commission requesting that the house receive the designation. The school is still in escrow with Hamid Nourafshan, the owner of the home.

Antonio Pequeño IV
Antonio Pequeño IV
Antonio “Tony” Pequeño IV is a reporter covering health care, finance and law for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. He specializes in reporting on some of the biggest names in the Valley’s biotechnology sector. In addition to his work with the Business Journal, Tony has reported with BuzzFeed News on the unsupervised use of Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition technology. Tony, who also conducts freelance reporting, graduated from the USC’s Master of Science in Journalism program in 2021. He is in his fifth year as a journalist as of 2021.

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