GUSD Seeks Stay in Sagebrush Petition Process

Not so fast, Glendale Unified School District lawyers seemed to insist when they filed a petition seeking the names and addresses of the 724 people who signed the UniteLCF petition earlier this year.
UniteLCF is the citizens’ group behind the most recent attempt in a 40-plus-year fight to redraw school district boundaries so that the students who live in the 385-acre western portion of La Cañada Flintridge will attend La Cañada Unified schools instead of GUSD schools, as they now do.
On Wednesday, GUSD attorneys asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Amy Hogue for the right to examine the signatures attached to the petition and for a temporary stay on the petition process so that they’ll have time to conduct that analysis.
The signatures were approved by Dean Logan, Los Angeles County registrar-recorder and county clerk, in July. He’s indicated that the signatures must remain confidential unless GUSD produces a court order to release them.
Hogue on Wednesday called for another hearing on the matter on Oct. 14, because neither the registrar nor the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization had enough time to prepare their positions between the time they were presented with the motion and Wednesday’s hearing, according to UniteLCF’s Nick Karapetian, who was in court.
The County Committee on School District Organization — which rules on school district boundaries — formally accepted UniteLCF’s petition Sept. 7. The next day, attorney Stan M. Barankiewicz filed the request for a stay on behalf of GUSD.
“We all felt that it was a stalling tactic,” UniteLCF’s Nalini Lasiewicz said.
Karapetian said if the judge determines GUSD’s attorneys should have the opportunity to analyze the signatures, those names will not become public and will be accessed only by the attorneys involved.
There was no indication Wednesday about what that analysis would entail, said Karapetian, who speculated that “they want to analyze the demographics of the signers and make some kind of point to the county committee or the public.”
He added: “We are very confident that the signatures are valid and sufficient, and if Glendale Unified wants to go and examine that information with the county registrar … we have no objection to that. What we object to is people’s names and addresses being handed over to Glendale Unified attorneys without understanding what the greater purpose is.”
UniteLCF began gathering petitions in February and submitted the signatures — accounting for nearly 50% of the 1,606 registered voters in the area — on June 29. Only 402 signatures, or 25% of voters, were required for the petition to be certified.
“They’d have to knock off more than 300 of the 700 signatures to invalidate the signatures,” Karapetian said.
The response to the petition drive was similar to the results of a survey conducted in May 2014 by GUSD, in which 43% of the registered voters in the area responded — 85% of them indicating they would “definitely support” a territory transfer.
Once the transfer petition had been certified by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the committee on school district organization had 60 days to conduct a pair of public meetings in each school district’s area, at which comments are to be collected from stakeholders.
When those 60 days expire, the committee officials have as long as 120 days to complete their evaluation.
There also will be a California Environmental Quality Act study, a portion of the process without a specific timetable, though UniteLCF leader Tom Smith said he expected it could take about six months, judging by similar studies done with other school districts in the state.
In its request for a court stay, GUSD attorneys’ written appeal included the assertion that “the County Committee could approve the Transfer Petition as early as Dec. 6, should the County Committee determine that the transfer is exempt under CEQA.”
Karapetian said it’s unlikely the process would move so quickly, citing a recently approved territory transfer involving the Wiseburn School District that took about 21 months. Also, he said, affected voters will have a say before anything is finalized.
The current legal maneuvering caught the citizens’ group by surprise, according to Lasiewicz, who said she lost three days of work preparing for Wednesday’s hearing.
“As Tom said, ‘We didn’t think we’d have to lawyer up till next September when there was an appeal [to the State Board of Education],’” Lasiewicz said.
“We’re extremely confident we’d be prepared to make the presentation and argument [to the county committee of school district organization], and we believe we have a just cause of uniting our community. But we didn’t expect to be dealing with any kind of deposition or doing research on statutes at this time.”
Offered Karapetian: “If any great litigator wants to help us, pro bono, it would be much appreciated.”

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