County Panel Approves Sagebrush Transfer, Public Vote Could Follow

Tom Smith (third from left), chair of UniteLCF, is all smiles as he stands with his fellow Sagebrush supporters because the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization voted 6-3 on Wednesday to transfer the Sagebrush area from the Glendale Unified School District to the La Cañada Unified School District.
Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
Tom Smith (third from left), chair of UniteLCF, is all smiles as he stands with his fellow Sagebrush supporters because the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization voted 6-3 on Wednesday to transfer the Sagebrush area from the Glendale Unified School District to the La Cañada Unified School District.

After nearly two hours of discussion on Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization voted 6-3 to transfer the Sagebrush area from the Glendale Unified School District to the La Cañada Unified School District.
However, a next step regarding the future of the territory, which is located in the western part of La Cañada Flintridge, is a potential vote among residents of Sagebrush and both GUSD and LCUSD during a general election. The area or perimeter of residents involved in that possible vote has not been determined.
“We’re still a ways away,” said Scott Tracy, a former LCUSD Governing Board member who supports the transfer and spoke on behalf of petitioners at the meeting. “Glendale [Unified] will most likely appeal. Even if there were an election, we were told [by an aide to the committee] it wouldn’t be in March. So we’re another year away just to have an election.”
After the vote, committee secretary Keith Crafton told the panel that staff members would provide more information in the future about the boundaries of the area that could vote on the issue.
As for the date of an election, he said, “We missed the window for an election action” in March, when the next general election will be held. “And most likely this will not occur until November 2020 ─ that is also pending [a possible GUSD] appeal to the state. We can start gathering information and we can bring that back at another meeting.”
GUSD Superintendent Vivian Ekchian declined to give a definitive response when The Outlook asked if her district would appeal.
“That’s a discussion we’ll have with our board of education,” Ekchian said.
Efforts seeking a territory transfer began in 1961 and were revived in 1978 and 1991 before the current effort was mounted in July 2013, LCUSD officials have said.
“Obviously, we’re extremely happy with the outcome of the committee,” said UniteLCF chair Tom Smith. The Sagebrush residents group is the chief petitioner for a transfer. “I think if anything, it validates the merits of the petition that we put in front of them. Given that staff has claimed there have been 3,000 pages of documentation given them, the committee has had a lot to digest, and we feel very good they must have done a very good job understanding the arguments we were making to undermine Glendale’s argument. Particularly, the whole premise being that local control, local accountability, is what the state Legislature put in place and this petition is a direct outcome of that.”
A study conducted under the California Environmental Quality Act determined that reassigning Sagebrush would not have significant adverse impacts on the environment with the implementation of mitigation measures. Staff members did not take a position on that study except to say that if the committee accepts its results, a petition review would take place.
Committee members unanimously voted to adopt the CEQA study before the proposed transfer.
After Wednesday’s decision to approve the petition, a proposal to set boundaries for the voting area was defeated 8-1. The boundary proposal, given the size of the two districts, could have given more advantage to GUSD, the larger district.
GUSD officials said in documents provided to the committee before the meeting that the proposed transfer would cost their school system at least $2.7 million in revenue from per-pupil funding, charitable contributions and parents as well as a $12 million loss from “significant bonding capacity.”
UniteLCF disputed those findings in its own documentation and has said the loss of per-pupil funding would be offset by not having to educate students who left the district. They have added that no property or school facilities would be transferred, and question the $12 million bond-related loss.
Before the vote, committee vice chair Suzan Solomon said her concerns were financial ones.
“In reviewing the staff report, my concerns were pretty hefty regarding the increase of cost to both school districts and also the increase of costs of housing for the La Cañada school district,” Solomon said before voting against a transfer. “To say there wouldn’t be any cost to La Cañada is naive.”
Committee member A.J. Willmer, who said he has had to “protect school boards from making poor decisions,” was more flexible.
“In this case, when I hear La Cañada officials contend they can handle the housing costs, I’m tempted to give them the benefit of the doubt. I don’t really see that as an issue.”
LCF Mayor Leonard Pieroni said he was excited the committee approved the petition.
“I am happy that all the hard work by our residents, school board, and Tom Smith and UniteLCF has paid off in this positive outcome,” he said.

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