Glendale Schools Keep Up Fight Against Sagebrush Transfer

Though 2019 has faded away, the long-running battle to transfer the Sagebrush area into the La Cañada Unified School District has boiled over to the new year.
A Glendale Unified School District lawsuit and two appeals regarding the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization’s October approval of a petition to move Sagebrush from the GUSD are newer facets of the contentious issue.
The lawsuit regarding Sagebrush, which is in the western part of La Cañada Flintridge but historically has been part of the GUSD, was filed on Oct. 31 in L.A. Superior Court. A trial-setting conference is set for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19.
The complaint contends that the county panel committed violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, including failing to properly analyze the project’s potential to create significant environmental impacts.
Meanwhile, members of a Sagebrush residents group that is the chief petitioner for a transfer scoffed at appeals filed by the GUSD.
“We continue to feel that both of their challenges are without merit and little more than a continuation of their efforts to oppose this long-sought transfer in any way possible, all while expending untold funds on their high-priced attorneys,” said a recent statement by UniteLCF representatives Tom Smith, Nalini Lasiewicz and Nick Karapetian.
Those challenges are GUSD’s appeal of the October decision to the county committee and a second appeal to the State Board of Education. The first appeal claims the transfer would waste “public funds and will significantly harm GUSD and impact LCUSD financially.” The other appeal argues that the transfer fails to substantially meet the requirement of not promoting racial or ethnic discrimination or segregation.
The transfer “will promote racial discrimination or ethnic segregation due to the substantial loss of 26% of minority students from GUSD’s Mountain Avenue Elementary School; LCUSD’s weaker board policies on racial discrimination and ethnic segregation”; and other impacts, according to the document. Dates to hear the appeals were not immediately set.
Attorney Stan Barankiewicz, who is representing the Glendale district, said in an email the reason for the different appeals is that state statutes require them to be sent to the committee and the state board. The county committee would then forward the information to the state along with the administrative record.
Margo Minecki, spokeswoman for the L.A. County Office of Education and the Committee on School District Organization, said the latter will not have completed the Sagebrush petition process until it approves the voting area for an election and the matter is not ripe for appeal until the process is completed.
The committee, after two hours of discussion on Oct. 2, voted 6-3 to transfer Sagebrush from the GUSD to the LCUSD, and directed that a popular vote on the issue be held. A decision about the potential voting area has been pushed to a future meeting; it’s not listed on the committee’s Jan. 8 agenda. Sagebrush activists’ efforts to obtain a territory transfer started in 1961 and were revived in 1978 and 1991 before the latest attempt began in July 2013.
The lawsuit and appeals are similar in some respects but differ in others.
The GUSD lawsuit asks a judge to vacate the county committee’s adoption of the project’s mitigated negative declaration; vacate its approval for the project; place a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on the committee; rule in favor of the GUSD regarding lawsuit costs and attorney fees; and provide any other relief the court deems just and proper.
Minecki said the county is unable to comment on pending legal matters. LCUSD Governing Board President Joe Radabaugh wrote in an email the district was aware of the lawsuit but had no comment “at this time” because of the pending litigation.
UniteLCF’s Smith, Lasiewicz and Karapetian said: “We expect the county to vigorously defend the committee’s decisions to approve the [California Environmental Quality Act] findings and our petition for the territory transfer and we expect further action on those, hopefully, early in the new year.” A study conducted under CEQA determined that reassigning Sagebrush would not have significant adverse impacts on the environment with the implementation of mitigation measures. Committee members unanimously voted to adopt the CEQA study before the proposed transfer.
While the lawsuit sticks to CEQA, the appeals separately discuss finances and potential racial discrimination.
The appeal to the county committee, made on Nov. 14, says the county committee used an “improper procedure” and didn’t provide substantial evidence to contradict county committee staff’s analyses and findings. “Despite petitioners and LCUSD’s desire for the transfer, County Committee staff specifically found that based on the facts and evidence, GUSD would be permanently harmed by the transfer, which is why all previous petitions have ultimately been denied” by the State Board of Education, according to the appeal. “Since GUSD has consistently served the residents with inter-district transfer permits, territory residents already have access to both school districts.”
The UniteLCF spokespeople responded that “despite being told their appeal was premature, GUSD went ahead and submitted the document with their ‘rationale’ for appealing the approval of our petition. We’ve reviewed it and found it to primarily be a rehash of their prior statements of opposition and assertions that have been completely refuted, yet their false narratives continue.”
In its Oct. 31 appeal to the state board, the GUSD not only claims the percentage of racial and ethnic groups within Mountain Avenue Elementary School would be dramatically reduced, but it also contends that the LCUSD “lacks GUSD’s robust instructional and academic support that is targeted to each student’s unique English proficiency, to ensure that those students are provided a meaningful and equal education.”
UniteLCF was unable to offer comment on that appeal by The Outlook’s press deadline.
Additionally, the GUSD filed an objection regarding a Nov. 6 county committee meeting over the proposed voting area, citing the school district’s Oct. 31 appeal. The district’s letter to the committee said California education code stated: “Upon the filing of the notice of appeal, the action of the county committee shall be stayed, pending the outcome of the appeal.”

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