In an unsurprising move, Orange County Superior Court Judge John Gastelum postponed the trial between Tustin Unified School District and the city of Tustin. The parties were due to go to court yesterday, after more than 2 years of failed negotiations, to resolve grading and permitting issues. Last month, the city of Tustin lost a lawsuit brought against the District for moving a continuation school into a newly constructed school meant for elementary students. In that case, the court said the city had no business telling the school district how to manage their school properties.
The postponement, first reported by Dan Chmielewski of the Liberal OC, was due to a heavy court docket, according to the judge. However, we find the timing a bit curious. Judge Gastelum has been trying to mediate a settlement with the parties since the inception of the suit. The trial is now scheduled to begin January 28, 2013, giving both sides a little breathing room and a second chance.
Councilmember Deborah Gavello has opposed the lawsuits from the beginning. At an early meeting, she stated, “The entire basis of fear and consequences is crazy. The cost the taxpayers have spent in attorney fees of over a quarter million dollars is more than any fine ever given to a city. I believe the contractors know the laws and so did the state architects. We haven’t had an issue with school grading to date on schools that have been around for a long time.”
Gavello says she has spoken at length with officials at the Regional Water Quality Board on several occasions and has even attempted to get them to attend a city council meeting. In those conversation, according to her, officials can recall only one issue with Fullerton School District. Officials also say that, when there is an issue, fines are not the complete answer and other environmental work ensues.
So why, if even the regional water boards have not had issues with school districts in the past, does Tustin continue to chase windmills?
In reality, this is the second best outcome of the lawsuit. The issue is sure to become a political football during the Fall elections with candidates taking positions on both sides. Candidates should be aware by now that this city council has dug themselves into a pit they seem unwilling or unable to dig themselves out of. Jerry Amante is out. Should cooler heads prevail in November, a new council majority could still resolve the lawsuit through mediation before heading into another million dollars to defend a defenseless case.