Consultants Can’t Solve the Sagebrush Puzzle

It appears that not even an expert consulting firm could crack the more-than-half-century-old Sagebrush conundrum.
Last July, the La Cañada and Glendale Unified school districts, along with the city of La Cañada Flintridge, hired Capitol Advisors Group to help the parties — who divided the $15,000 price tag for the consultants’ services — explore all viable options for a mutually agreeable transfer of the 385 acres in the western edge of the city between districts.
The group issued a report last week stating that “a mutually agreeable territory transfer cannot be reached without some accommodation or identifying additional resources, the significance of which cannot be agreed to by the parties.”
“Basically, the totality of the options, if we were to do everything, would not be sufficient to meet Glendale’s requirements for approving the transfer,” said Ellen Multari, a member of the LCUSD Governing Board. “And still, it presents challenges to us as to what we would do. Our assumption was that we could have this phase-in strategy, but that turns out not to be a viable solution for legal purposes.
“So, unfortunately, they were not able to craft a single, magic-bullet item, no combination of options that were going to satisfy all parties.”
The Sagebrush area of western LCF, with its approximately 900 residential parcels and close to 400 students, falls within GUSD’s boundaries. Since the 1960s, many residents in the neighborhood have pursued a transfer of that territory to LCUSD, an effort that was reintroduced in 2013 when a citizens’ committee approached the City Council seeking its support.
Since then, the districts and the city have held numerous discussions in an attempt to find an amicable pathway to achieve the transfer. As that process played out, the citizens’ committee waited to submit a petition to the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization seeking the transfer, preferring to see the districts reach a resolution.
When it began to appear that no agreeable pathway existed, the citizens’ group decided in December that it was time to move ahead. UniteLCF began collecting signatures earlier this year and, as of last week, had gathered about 760 names, well over the 403 required to eclipse the 25% threshold required by the county.
Still, UniteLCF leader Tom Smith said the group plans to hold off on submitting the petition to the county until after it meets with GUSD’s new superintendent, Winfred Roberson, on May 11.
“We’re going to ask him to maybe reconsider a negotiated agreement,” Smith said. “With a new person coming in, it only seems fair to at least give them the opportunity to meet and just see if there is a different viewpoint.”
Smith said he found Capitol Advisors’ report lacking because it didn’t dig into the numbers presented by GUSD.
“To me, it was disappointing, to say the least,” he said. “My impression was that the whole reason for bringing in Capitol Advisors was to have them do an evaluation of the reasonableness of the Glendale claims … and make a determination as to what the true financial impacts would be for Glendale. But what they did was take Glendale’s stated claims.”
By many accounts, the districts were close to an agreement in March 2014, when GUSD was prepared to request that LCUSD provide compensation of about $4.45 over 13 years to match the amount of lost property taxes and another $2 million for reimbursement of state-provided per-pupil funding.
But by November 2014, the talks reached an impasse. LCUSD officials balked when Glendale asked for, at most, $16,050,738 over 12 years to help soften the per-pupil funding loss and another $6.8 million in debt service relief tied to the Measures K and S bonds.
“At this point, it’s really in the lap of the citizens’ committee,” Multari said. “We gave it the old college try and I don’t think you can fault us for lack of trying. But at this point, it falls into their hands.”

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