Jerry Holds a Meeting

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This article has been updated October 13, 2011 5:30 pm to reflect late information we received from the City of Tustin – jkg

In a continuing effort to support their latest lawsuit against Tustin Unified School District, the City of Tustin held a meeting for Columbus Square residents last week to promote their agenda.

According to an OC Register article, about 80 residents from the area attended the meeting.  Even Mayor Jerry Amante showed up personally to answer questions about the issues surrounding Heritage Elementary School. City staff gave presentations and everyone was well informed. Well, except the city didn’t invite anyone from TUSD to the party. They also did not invite the rest of Tustin. As Communications Director, Lisa Woolery explained in an email:

…we did hold an informational meeting for Columbus Square residents on the subject of Heritage Elementary school that is supposed to serve their neighborhood, and for which they are paying mello roos taxes.  The issue does not pertain to the rest of the city so we did not see a need to publicize it on the city website.

So, the question I would be asking is, how can the affected residents get full answers to their questions if both sides weren’t there? One look at the information on the TUSD website shows they can support their position of why the school is being temporarily used as a continuation high school rather than its intended purpose as an elementary school to service the former Marine base. I thought it surprising that TUSD did not call a meeting first. And, I give the City staff credit for reaching out to our citizens, even if some of them they may have their own agenda. Woolery did say that her understanding was that TUSD did previously hold an informational meeting on their own that was not publicized on their website either.

The fact that a joint meeting wasn’t even considered is evidence of just how far the rift  between the City and the School District has widened. Beginning with the first lawsuit involving permits and grading, the City Council took a stance that was unreasonable and ill-conceived. It became a power struggle that has only morphed into a full fledged feud over time.

In the current lawsuit, the City claims to be standing up for the residents of the Columbus Square tract, who are paying for a school through a mello-roos assessment, and that would have been serviced by Heritage Elementary School. TUSD claims it doesn’t make sense to open a school with drastically reduced attendance that will not increase in the foreseeable future. They have also stated emphatically that the school will reopen for its intended purpose when housing construction restarts and the school has enough students.

What if the School District didn’t use the school for alternative purposes? In a press release issued right after the second lawsuit TUSD said the school would not have opened anyway. So, Columbus Square residents would still not have a school. It is also doubtful the City of Tustin would then have any grounds for a lawsuit. That lawsuit, by the way, has changed venue. In a furtive move to keep the citizens of Tustin in the dark and knowing only what the City staff want them to know, they filed for and were granted a motion for change of venue to Riverside County Superior Court. None of that has shown up on the City’s special page set up to keep the citizens informed about the lawsuit.

In checking the Tustin Unified School District website, there are numerous supporting documents (but no court documents) to justify their actions in regard to both lawsuits. One letter to Elysse James, a reporter for the Orange County Register, says quite a bit about the District’s effort to settle the initial lawsuit regarding grading permits.

When the City fired its City Manager, David Biggs, after he had reached a settlement in concept with the District, and when the City compounded this problem by refusing to engage in further settlement negotiations, the District was compelled to…

Why is this statement so believable? Because, in all of the documents the City hosts on its website regarding the lawsuits with the District, not one indicates that they have made an earnest effort to settle with the District. Instead, the City insists that litigation or compliance with their demands is the only way.

So, who is the culprit in this situation? You will have to decide for yourself. What I can tell you is the District seems to have taken the high road. And, while their website leaves a lot to be desired, it still carries more information regarding the lawsuits than Tustin’s own website.

As we told you, we received a response to our email sent to the City’s PIO asking for information regarding the change of venue. This article has been updated to reflect that information. And, here is a shameless plug, because Lisa Woolery has been very cordial regarding any information request I have made. If you want the latest updates for whatever the city is doing (even when they are not busy suing other government agencies), “Like” the Tustin Facebook page which Lisa runs. If you are a Twitter fan, you can reach her there as well. She does a great job of responding to citizen inquiries.

In the meantime, call the City and the District and ask them both to settle these lawsuits that are costing the citizens of Tustin a small fortune in legal fees. As we like to remind you, the biggest loser in this case will be the taxpayer who foots the bill while the government who is supposed to look out for our best interests and the interests of our children, squabble like, well….children.

About Jeff Gallagher

I am a retired peace officer from the 2nd largest law enforcement agency in Orange County. I live in and love Tustin where my family and I have resided for the past 25 years. I am a highly moderate libertarian that despises hardcore Republicans, Democrats and anyone else who is not willing to compromise for the good of the people.

Posted on October 12, 2011, in Local Government. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Jerry Holds a Meeting.

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