Sagebrush Petition Will Continue Forward, Judge Says

For now, the latest campaign in a four-decade-long push to include the Sagebrush area in the La Cañada Unified School District will continue to inch forward.
Last Friday, Judge Amy Hogue refused Glendale Unified School District’s request for a stay on an ongoing petition process that is set to bring the Sagebrush issue before the Los Angeles County Committee of School Organization in February. Petitioners are asking the county to sign off on the transfer of the 385 acres in westernmost La Cañada Flintridge from the GUSD into LCUSD.
Hogue also ruled that though GUSD attorneys are welcome to inspect the 724 names and addresses on the petition, they cannot copy or photograph the data.
Attorneys will return to Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 13 to argue whether the GUSD should be granted a stay before the 11-member County Committee on School District Organization hears the case.
GUSD sought a stay and requested that its lawyers receive copies of the signatures collected earlier this year as part of the petition process to bring the case to the county. Those signatures were approved in July by Dean Logan, registrar-recorder and county clerk.
When queried by Hogue, GUSD attorney Stan Barankiewicz said he needed time to examine the names and addresses on the petition to determine whether the people who signed had school-age children. He said he might argue that many of the signees are most concerned with a presumed increase in property values should the transfer take place.
LCF resident Marilyn Smith — who represented Sagebrush residents when the matter was litigated the first time 40 years ago, and who was back arguing on their behalf, pro-bono, Friday — balked at Barankiewicz’s plans.
“I’m deeply concerned about what they want to do with voter information,” she told Hogue. “We believe it has a chilling effect on voters … and further suppresses people’s willingness to sign a petition.”
Following the hearing, she expounded on the notion: “People should have the right, for whatever reason, [to sign a petition]. If they’re a registered voter in a district, that’s all that counts.”
She also dismissed Barankiewicz’s theory that property values are driving the campaign.
“He may talk about property values, but I’m sorry, north Glendale property values are pretty darn high, too,” she said. “So that’s not an issue. That’s why the name of the petitioners is ‘UniteLCF,’ not ‘Raise Our Property Values.’”
Barankiewicz declined to comment further following Friday’s proceedings.
As for how he’ll have to go about inspecting those signatures, Hogue determined that the “19th-century” approach of handwritten note-taking would suffice. She also remarked that she thought it was odd that four lawyers — representing GUSD, UniteLCF, the registrar and the committee on school district organization — were in her courtroom even arguing the matter in court.
“Call me crazy,” Hogue said, “but why not sit with three paralegals and take notes? That would take five or 10 hours? The cost-benefit analysis is not making much sense to me from the 35,000-foot view.”
A stay would have delayed a pair of community meetings planned in the next few weeks. Those meetings will go forward: at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, at the La Cañada Unified School District boardroom and at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, at Crescenta Valley High School.
“We are glad we can move forward,” UniteLCF’s Nalani Lasiewicz said. “But what’s happened since they filed this lawsuit [on Sept. 8] is really disrupting our ability to organize for the hearings. But we’re moving forward and I’m glad the hearings will go on.”
Once the transfer petition was certified by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the committee on school district organization had 60 days to conduct the pair of public meetings in each school district’s area, where comments will be collected from stakeholders.
When those 60 days expire, 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.
“It’s a long process,” said Smith in court, making a case against a stay. “UniteLCF started this three years ago and just now has gotten to this point, and there are many more steps beyond that.”

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