The Closing of PHHS

1984 Closing of PHHS

Thanks to Randy Milliken for providing this from the PHHS64 web site.

Pleasant Hill High School was closed at the end of the 1980 school year in the midst of great controversy. Some wanted the newest high school (Northgate) to be closed, since it lacked tradition. Others wanted the oldest high school (Mt Diablo) to be closed, since its plant was antiquated. Here below are the key elements of the decision to close PHHS. 


Through the early twentieth century each local community in central Contra Costa county had its own little elementary school district.  Mt. Diablo High School served all those communities from its founding in 1900 until Acalanes High School opened in 1940. In 1948 the citizens of a number of Diablo Valley elementary school districts voted to join a new Mount Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD), including the Mt Diablo HS service area, but not the Acalanes HS area. The people of unincorporated Pleasant Hill, having been promised the first new high school in the district, worked hard to see that the incorporation vote succeeded. 

The new MDUSD was true to its word. Contracts were let, construction took place, and Pleasant Hill High School opened in the fall of 1954. At the other end of the MDUSD, Pacifica High School opened in 1955. As the baby-boomer bulge moved through the elementary schools, it became clear more high school space would be needed throughout the Diablo Valley. Clayton Valley opened in 1958, College Park in 1960, Ygnacio Valley in 1962, and Concord in 1966. This construction was predicated not only on existing school populations, but predictions of continuing straight line growth of those populations into the future.

Changing Demographics and Prop 13

In 1961 the new City of Pleasant Hill, population 27,500, developed a general plan based on the assumption of a future population of 60,000. But things changed during the 1960s. Young home owners grew older and stopped having children. By 1970 the city population had increased only by 500, to about 28,000. The only real growth was at the north end of the city, near DVC and in new suburbs that were actually in the City of Martinez. Pleasant Hill High School, which reached a maximum of 1,700 or so students in the late-1960s, was down to 1,100 students by the mid-1970s. College Park, with new students from the north, surpassed PHHS in enrollment in the 1970s. The last new high school in the District, Northgate, was opened in 1974. But the demographic shift was occurring throughout the Diablo Valley. As a portent of things to come, in 1975 the smallest high school, Pacifica, was closed by the MDUSD over the protests of the West Pittsburg (now Bay Point) citizens.

The 1978 passage of Proposition 13 (Initiative to Limit Property Taxation) hastened the reduction in classrooms at all grade levels across the MDUSD. The school board, faced with the immediate loss of 42% of their budget revenues, set about closing 42% of its classroom space. Another high school would have to close. A new ingrediant was added to the mix in 1979, when a state law was passed that precluded school districts from closing facilities that still had outstanding bonds to be serviced. Because of that law, there was no question of closing newly-build Northgate or the other newer schools. Only two high schools were free of bond-debt, Mt. Diablo and Pleasant Hill. 

The MDUSD voted to close Pleasant Hill High School despite vigorous organized protest by the people and government of Pleasant Hill. The people argued that Mt. Diablo High School, the only alternative for closure, was a much older facility in a downtown area that would see no future school-aged population growth. But old Mt. Diablo HS had many alumni among the most successful enterprenuars of the county, and Concord had more voters than Pleasant Hill. The Pleasant Hill City attorney was turned down in an attempt to get a court injunction against the MDUSD. In the end, the City and citizens petitioned all the way to the State Board of Eduction, which turned down their final appeal.

When PHHS closed, its students were given the choice out of which of the other schools in the district they would attend. Most chose either College Park or Ygnacio Valley. College Park remains today the only high school in Pleasant Hill. The PHHS campus became an MDUSD adult school, then an outstation for Cal State Hayward. In 1997 the site became the location of Pleasant Hill Middle School.  

Today there are students at our old PHHS, and they are still "the Rams." They are 6th-8th graders, some our own grandchildren and those of our friends. Check out their website at the link below:


Today, ironically, over half of the student body population at Mt. Diablo High School comes from the Bay Point region, an area of rapid suburban growth that was once the home of Pacifica High School.  There is talk of turning the old Pacifica plant (now Riverside Intermediate School) back into a high school. Without the students from Bay Point, however, there would be no justification for the continuing existence of Mt. Diablo High School.

With the benefit of hindsight, this could be another argument in favor of closing Mt. Diablo HS back in 1980, rather than PHHS. However, what happened is what happened.

Story related to Randy Milliken in January 2014 by Jim Alkire, Pleasant Hill city manager in 1980, with a few additional facts from wikipedia.  

PS  The controversy over the 1980 closing of PHHS was mentioned in a September 4, 2007 Contra Costa Times article entitled "Remembering the Rams."  Although the story deals mainly with the athletic history and coaches at the high school, it really hits home about the community attitude toward it's closure. One great quote from the story:   

"By your forgiveness, may we forgive the circumstances and stupidities that caused (Pleasant Hill) to be closed." -- Rev. Richard P. Brewer during the school's final invocation on June 11, 1980.  Reach the article at: