Parents fight gun club across from Rancho Cordova Waldorf-inspired school

The $6 million Sacramento Gun Club with an indoor shooting range, VIP lounge, coffee bar and retail sales in Rancho Cordova is about two months from its grand opening.

About 250 feet away sits its social opposite – the small, Waldorf-inspired George Washington Carver School of Arts and Science, which describes its learning approach as holistic, says “nature is our textbook” and mentions the head, hands and heart as key components to its campus culture.

More than 200 parents with students at Carver high school and its Waldorf-inspired feeder schools, A.M. Winn and Alice Birney, have emailed school trustee Christina Pritchett to complain about the gun club, she said. Some are threatening to remove their children from Sacramento City Unified’s public Waldorf schools entirely if the high school campus remains situated across from the gun club.

“They’re very concerned about the well-being and safety of their children” once they reach high school, Pritchett said.

Trustees for the Sacramento City Unified School District, whose boundaries stretch into a slice of Rancho Cordova, are scheduled to consider a resolution Thursday asking the Rancho Cordova City Council to relocate the club.

Rancho Cordova leaders are sympathetic, but they say revoking the club’s license and building permit is legally impossible as the project nears completion. Rancho Cordova city officials issued the building permit in April 2014. There was no public hearing on the project because none was required under the city’s zoning code.

“There’s a clear call in there for the city to move the facility,” City Councilman David Sander said of the school district resolution. “That’s not legally possible.”

Council members, school leaders and district officials say they were never informed of the proposal before it got the green light.

Allegra Alessandri, principal at Carver, said she learned about the project Aug. 14 when a neighbor saw work crews arrive to remove windows from an existing office building and install concrete. When a truck showed up carrying bulletproof glass, the neighbor sent the principal an email.

“Most troubling to me is the complete and total lack of communication,” Alessandri said Wednesday. “It feels disrespectful.”

The City Council recently discussed a proposal to open a bar next to a strip club, she said. “It makes the gun range all the sneakier in deliberately avoiding conversation and (public) notice.”

The city Planning Department looked at the industrial/mixed use zoning and determined that the club, as an indoor entertainment use, was permitted, said Rancho Cordova City Attorney Adam Lindgren. So the club received a business license and a building permit.

Even though no public hearing was required, Mayor Dan Skoglund expressed disappointment that the council wasn’t notified.

“Our Planning Department green-lighted it all the way through,” said Skoglund. “It’s unfortunate that the Planning Department didn’t see through our eyes the impact on the community. They didn’t look at this through the eyes of a council member.

“We have no legal means to stop this project.”

The 40,000-square-foot building has 34 shooting lanes, including 11 rifle ranges, five tactical ranges with motion targets and a laser range. It will accommodate law enforcement professionals as well as individuals who want to shoot. Guns will be available for rent. Club memberships are already available from $19 to $149 a month with upfront costs of $3,000 for the top-of-the-line VIP members.

The building is heavily soundproofed and won’t emit noise from weapons fire, said Tom Black, project manager and partner in the owning entity, Fite Development Co. About two-thirds of the site will offer retail sales – guns, accessories and clothing. Guns not in use will be under lock and key, Black said.

Asked about the school, which has been at the site since 2008, Black was blunt.

“They were the ones who really shouldn’t have put the school up there,” he said. “That was the problem, putting the school in an industrial area.”

The enclosed, thick-walled interior structure is several feet inside the outer structure, a former office building now redone. Gray is the dominant indoor color.

“At this point, they have done significant work on the building, significant noise mitigation and security measures,” Lindgren said. If the city were to try to stop the project, he said, it could face “substantial legal exposure.”

That’s not likely to stop parents – or Pritchett.

After her meeting Wednesday night with city officials, Pritchett said she wasn’t sure what course she and others at the district might pursue.

Rancho Cordova officials “thought what we were asking for in our resolution – they didn’t use the word ridiculous – but they said they couldn’t do it. So they’re hoping to work with us,” Pritchett said.

“I’m not against guns and not against business growth, but I am against having a shooting range next to a school,” she said. “I didn’t even sleep last night. It’s just eating me up.”

Rucha Powers, a parent of three boys, has taken a lead in the parents’ fight. The oldest entered Carver this fall. Her younger two attend Alice Birney in South Land Park.

Parents have organized telephone trees to share information and used email and social media to spread the word. The Facebook page “Lincoln Village United” shows an aerial view of the site with the strip of vacant land between the school and the front door to the gun club. It urges visitors to sign a petition. There’s a link to “bulletpoints,” a blog with talking points, articles and more.

“I’ve written to all our elected officials,” Powers said. “It’s all I’ve been doing since we were told that nothing could be done to change the situation.”

Gun club culture and school culture, she said, “just don’t mix.”

“Here they are, brought together at this school, where our Waldorf culture is even more misaligned,” she said. “This is a real threat. I know for certain that there are parents who won’t send their children” to Carver if the club does not move.

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