The next big development in the decades-old Sagebrush saga has been rescheduled for March 8.
The Los Angeles County Committee of School District Organization’s meeting that was scheduled for Feb. 1 was canceled late last week because of the substantial amount of information members must read and analyze, according to the leader of the citizens group pushing for the territory transfer. UniteLCF wants the 385-acre westernmost portion of La Cañada Flintridge to be redistricted from Glendale Unified to La Cañada Unified.
“We got a phone call from [the committee business services coordinator] Alison Deegan letting us know,” said Tom Smith, head of UniteLCF. “All she basically shared was a couple of things: It’s mainly due to the volume of material that everybody had submitted and the fact that the county committee guys were looking for the presentations that were given at the public hearings.
“And she mentioned that there were also some [California Environmental Quality Act]-related information they wanted to gather.”
“I give [the delay] a good read: They appreciate the volume of everything that was submitted and want to take a deep dive into it. We were always concerned … that there wouldn’t be enough time for the county committee to read it all, much less digest it.”
Smith said the all-volunteer citizens group submitted a 90-page brief to the county supporting the transfer, the result of thousands of donated hours over the past 2½ years.
He’s hoping the grassroots nature of the campaign resonates with the committee members making the decision.
Among those volunteers: LCF resident Marilyn Smith, an attorney who is contributing pro-bono to the same cause she worked on in the 1970s.
“If that doesn’t smack of resolve,” Smith said, “I don’t know what does.”
After an initial petition failed in 1961, the county committee approved residents’ request for a transfer in 1979. GUSD filed written opposition to the transfer, however, and at that time, the rules called for an election by all voters in both districts, including Glendale’s much larger voting base, according to a timeline researched by former LCUSD Governing Board member Scott Tracy.
To avoid costs of what would’ve almost certainly been a lopsided election, in 1980 the county’s Board of Supervisors denied the second petition.
A third petition, in 1991, also was approved by the committee. But the State Board denied the transfer when it upheld GUSD’s appeals, based on both procedural grounds and about racial and ethnic population concerns.
The latest petition effort is the fourth by Sagebrush residents. It caps an effort that began in 2013, when the city of LCF approved a resolution supporting the transfer. After negotiations between the districts failed to yield a joint agreement, UniteLCF filed this petition with the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office on July 26.
The county had 120 days following the second of two public hearings on Nov. 2 to conclude its analysis and reach a preliminary decision.
“Overall, we continue to feel very positive about where we are,” Smith said. “And I think what we’re trying to impress on GUSD is that … more and more, the ground has moved in favor of petitioners. If we don’t come to a negotiated agreement between the two districts, every time you go before the Board of Education on appeal, you’re rolling the dice and it’s only a matter of time before the dice come up 7 and you lose.”
If the committee issues its preliminary approval for the transfer, a CEQA analysis will begin. That could take several months.
And if, once the CEQA study is complete, the committee officially approves the transfer, Glendale Unified will have 30 days to appeal, Smith said.
On the other hand, if the committee denies the transfer request, there will be no CEQA process and UniteLCF will have five days to file a notice of appeal, Smith said.
He is optimistic, however, that it won’t come to that.
“We feel very good,” Smith said. “We made a very compelling argument.”