How Many Times?

As if one lawsuit is not enough between the City of Tustin and the Tustin Unified School District, Jerry and His Kids are at it again. This time it is over a new elementary school located on the old former Tustin Marine Base.

The Heritage Elementary School was built specifically for new housing developments on the former marine base and was scheduled to open this fall. However, as the Orange County Register reported last month, there are only 78 students for the new school. That prompted TUSD officials to temporarily redesignate the school as a continuation high school, along with some support and special education offices. The low number of students, due mostly to the economic downturn, is apparently not a good enough reason for Amante. Calling it a “classic bait and switch” tactic, he has persuaded the council to pursue another lawsuit against the district.

To be fair, the Tustin City Council may have a legitimate complaint. Noting that special taxes were collected from the homeowners in the Columbus Square section of the base, they say the district should keep its word and open the elementary school as planned. TUSD argues that the school cannot be sustained with 78 students amd that the city has not kept its part of the bargain by properly developing housing in the area. Caught in-between are the parents and students living in the area who expected to have a school nearby for their children to attend.

The issue goes a lot deeper. The feud between Tustin and TUSD goes back to last year when the city council, led by Amante, demanded grading permits and other oversight for the new high school the district is building. That prompted a lawsuit by the district, which believes that they are a sovereign entity of the state and are not required to come under the purview of the city. This lawsuit is a double whammy to the pocketbook of the taxpayers. The cost so far is almost one million dollars and will surely pass that mark before the lawsuit is heard. It is interesting to note that councilmember Gavello is against the original lawsuit and appears, if not against the permitting process, to be asking both sides to come together without further cost to either side (which, as taxpayer, there is only one side).

But, hold on a minute.

At the closed session of the city council meeting on August 2nd, the city attorney reported that the council unanimously voted to sustain a lawsuit against TUSD over the Heritage School issue. Why? When one considers all of the issues, why would Gavello now choose to go forward in a new lawsuit against the district? Although the issues are different, the cost of initiating a lawsuit, with the potential for another million dollars to be spent out of pocket would seem to be a good argument for trying some type of mediation or arbitration before going full bore into suing the district again. We have an email in to Gavello. we’ll let you know what, if anything, she has to say.

So now, here the city is, gearing up for another lawsuit with the district. The city is spending more and more taxpayer money and staff time suing the district and not getting input from the citizens of Tustin who are affected by these actions. Add to this, the recent decision by the city to act as master developer for the former base rather than try to look for another master developer with expertise in the field. Apprently, Jerry feels his extensive real estate experience can be used to the city’s advantage. Is it any wonder Jerry has a recall action against him?

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