Travesty at Saddleback Valley USD surplus property public hearing


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Perhaps I am spending too much time writing about high-speed rail. Last night a small group of concerned parents were railroaded by the “7/11 Committee” of the Saddleback Valley Unified School District at their surplus property hearing. In addition to the Committee Board there were 15 parents, reporters, Mission Viejo Council Member Cathy Schlicht and Elaine Lister, Planning Manager of the city of Mission Viejo at this 40 minute meeting.
The 9 members of the “committee” were tasked to provide recommendations on the lease or sale of potential surplus School District properties. The District reports SVUSD 2010 student enrollment of 15,395 students with a capacity of 18,320 for their elementary schools, resulting in a surplus of 2,925 open seats.
Arriving before the (April 28th) meeting began I picked up a copy of the Agenda that was dated April 14th.
Under Items of Business is item # 2, Approval of the April 14th Minutes, item #3, Review and Discuss Draft Report, Item #4 approve Final Report to Board, Item #5 Public Comments and lastly #7 Adjournment.
Notice that the Agenda called for a vote “before” taking Public Comment. Being chastised for Agendizing  their vote before taking public testimony they delayed their unanimous vote in support of their fast track recommendation until after taking public comments from a half dozen Lake Forest and Trabuco Canyon parents, each of whom expressed concerns relating to the impact of closing the Aliso and Trabuco Elementary schools. Some of the parents raised the question of Brown Act violations and failure to provide proper and timely notice of the 7-11 meeting.In the April 14th meeting summary committee advisor Bob Nicholson stated that “we are following the same pattern as any school board meeting.” From the testimony heard last night I respectfully challenge that compliance.
As there were no copies of any documentation for the public or the press I asked one member to see the back-up material documentation that they were scheduled to vote. She asked for my business card stating that she would email a copy. How thoughtful. Hearing my request another member did hand me the 22 page report from which some of this post is utilized.
From the Eric Hall & Associates report it reads: “State law requires community input whenever a school District is considering the sale or lease of property not needed for classroom purposes. The Saddleback Valley Unified school District (SVUSD) Board of Trustees established a Real Property Advisory Committee and approved the Committee members at the regularly scheduled board meeting of April 12, 2011.
The stated purpose of the committee is to review projected school enrollments and other data provided by the district to:
Determine the amount of surplus space in the district
Establish a priority list of use  of surplus space that is acceptable to the community
Circulate throughout the attendance areas a priority list of surplus space
Provide a hearing of community input to the committee on acceptable uses of space including sale or lease of surplus property
Make a determination of limits of tolerance of use of space and real property
Forward a report to the district governing board recommending uses of surplus space and real property as set forth in Education Code section 17390.”
“The governing Board identified and limited the real property referred to the Committee for discussion and consideration to the Aliso, La Tierra, Linda Vista, O’Neil, and Trabuco Elementary School sites and the SVUSD Surplus Warehouse site. “Note: La Tierra and O’Neill elementary schools in MV were closed in 2009.
Allyson Shimasaki, a Lake Forest homeowner with students at Aliso Elementary, Serrano Intermediate and El Toro High School, expressed her concerns about the structure of the 7-11 committee. Following is part of her public comments:
“Realizing that there can be no more than 11 people on the 7-11 committee, the CDE continues to summarize that, “…it is important that this…committee be perceived as objective and independent from suspected school board or other political agendas.” In contrast, this committee was chosen behind closed doors giving the appearance, whether warranted or not, that the committee was hand-picked to expedite the process for the school district. I certainly don’t think there is anyone serving on this committee who might be affected by these potential school closures, and although I’m sure you are all fine individuals, this committee doesn’t reflect the population or interests of the community surrounding Aliso Elementary. I would respectfully request that if you are representing our educational community by serving on this committee that you critically evaluate all information provided. If you do not feel that the information needed to make the determination of surplus or not surplus has been supplied you have a legal responsibility to abstain from voting.
I further request that all properties being considered are evaluated individually, and that Aliso Elementary be removed from the list of surplus properties. Thank you.”
Ulu Cook, Lake Forest resident and parent testified:
“The legislation in clear that the duties of this committee are to be taken very seriously, and no decisions should be made without all pertinent information being analyzed. Since this is only the second meeting of this committee, it doesn’t seem that there has been any discussion about what requirements might be necessary to close a public school, e.g., public hearings, environmental impact report, etc. There hasn’t been any discussion of how accurate enrollment predictions have been in years past. Studies have shown that projections for one to possibly three years were useful, but the projections five to 10 years out are less reliable. There hasn’t been any discussion of an independent traffic analysis to see if the receiving schools can absorb the traffic for a new student population. There hasn’t even been any discussion of the values of the properties being studied. In fact, appearances would lead an observer to believe that this committee might not be taking their responsibilities seriously. Two of the members didn’t even stay until the end of the last meeting. The SVUSD School Board Code of Ethics (which applies to committees that report to the School board, also) states that committee members should “Devote sufficient time, thought, and study to proposed actions so as to be able to base decisions upon all available facts and vote in accordance with honest convictions, unswayed by partisan bias of any kind.”
I urge the committee to delay presenting their report to the board until every member is sure that all required information has been gathered and due diligence has been done. I would further urge the committee to consider each property individually and consider more comprehensive investigation into closure of Aliso possibly utilizing a 2-3 year plan which would allow time to stop the process if enrollment rises, and allows time to look at the approvals needed and the issues involved such as environmental and zoning issues, potential issues regarding racial segregation and restrictions imposed by the Naylor Act. Thank you.”
In her speech Lake Forest parent Tami Palos addressed the Brown Act requirements and fast track actions of the committee where she stated:
“The Brown Act requires the agendas for these meetings to be posted 72 hours prior to the meeting which would have been 6:00 p.m. on Monday. Before this meeting, which is supposedly a Public Hearing, the Notice of Public Hearing and the agenda were not posted online until Tuesday afternoon after a request had been made for both items by parents. A copy was not posted in the District office until another parent visited the District office Tuesday afternoon to request it. No copy of the notice is posted at Aliso Elementary, and no staff member there received a copy of it to post.
Just as the Facilities Advisory Committee met only twice within a two week period and then was told their service was completed before they ever even voted to recommend any schools for closure, this 7-11 Committee seems to be rushing through this process as the agenda states that you will be ready to prepare a report for the school board after meeting only twice. Even though tonight is supposed to be the hearings of community input regarding acceptable uses of space and real property that are required by the Education Code, the committee has already voted in their first meeting to declare Aliso a surplus property and lease it out. This vote was made without all committee members there, without any discussions regarding potential revenue from sale or lease of the property, and without any discussions regarding the cost of closing the school, including moving technology such as SmartBoards, possible environmental studies, and potential costs of rezoning if the site were to be used for something other than a school.
Two years ago, the school district closed O’Neill and La Tierra Elementary schools. Currently, both properties are still functioning as cost centers. In Lake Forest alone, there are 870 vacant commercial properties which could be considered by renters before they consider Aliso. Now, the district wants to add Aliso Elementary to the list of vacant properties in the school district, and they want to do so without a thorough and fair investigation into the benefits and costs to the community. I urge you to consider each property individually and to remove Aliso from the list of surplus properties.”
My final quote comes from Lake Forest homeowner Rob Lange who also testified at the April 14th meeting.
Last night Rob addressed the criteria for the 7-11 Committee recommendations:
Speaking to Criteria 1  “Appraised Value of Property and Buildings” – During the April 14, 2011 meeting when asked by a committee member how much the properties were worth, Mr. Nicholson stated that there was, and I quote, “no need to worry about valuation of property.” This is contradictory to the first criteria presented as important criteria to consider when designating as “surplus” or “non surplus”. Properties were then very briefly discussed individually with no information about their potential revenue should they be leased or sold. The committee then voted to surplus all properties as a block and did not look at them individually as far as income potential AND this vote was done before allowing any public comments.
In discussing the warehouse that has been vacant for about 1½ years, it was revealed that it has no zoning issues, and revenue from its sale would have no restrictions on how it is used. Orange County records show the warehouse property with a current assessed value of $1,924,059. Sale of this one vacant property could provide the boost to the general fund that is needed right now, and give the district time to more thoroughly investigate which schools it would be most fiscally and educationally responsible to consider for closure.
Speaking to Criteria 3: “Community Use of Fields and Facilities” – For years Aliso has served as the home of Saddleback Little League. Any disposition of this property could uproot and possibly disband a well established, character building youth organization comprised of community volunteers who also help maintain the facility and contribute revenue. It would not only affect the students, it would have spider web like negative implications on a portion of the Lake Forest community as a whole.
That said, I also would like to air concerns I have on the committee meeting on April 14th. The entire meeting lasted one hour and 20 minutes with a good part of it devoted to personal introductions of the members, election of a chairperson and secretary and listening to an overview of committee goals and responsibilities.
Within those 80 minutes I was confused how a decision could be reached on the fate of six taxpayer owned properties with a cumulative value of well over $10 million without detailed short or long term analysis of the financial implications of the decision.
I request that the committee make a decision on each potential surplus property separately, I recommend sale of the warehouse property first before any other decisions are made since the revenue from that sale could immediately resolve the potential closure issues and I ask that Aliso Elementary be removed from the list of surplus properties.”
Larry comment:  I label this a travesty in that the meeting may not have been properly noticed, they failed to provide members of the public documentation on the actions they were about to undertake and had closed minds as to how they would vote telling the attendees that declaring a “surplus doesn’t mean schools will be closed.”
This reminds me of when a public agency includes your home in a redevelopment project area (RDA) with eminent domain powers when you are told they may not have plans to take your private property.
It is true that enrollment in our local public schools are declining. It is also a known fact that there is a fixed cost to keep schools open. While Mission Viejo is almost built out the same may not be true for some of our neighbors. In that case we might see young families moving into the SVUSD where enrollment might increase.
Relocations impacts everyone, be it displacement due to eminent domain or having your children be moved to another school due to actions for which you have no control. My sense is that the 10 members at the meeting failed to show any compassion for the parents knowing that their families will be impacted by their actions.

 

 


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