For Immediate Release| http://bit.ly/wAWD1v
Board’s Defiance of Judge’s September 12, 2011 Decision Likely Triggered Court’s Action Granting Relief Requested By VDK Coalition
Lease of Van de Kamps Campus Building By Charter School Run By Former Mayor Richard Riordan, Eli Broad Foundation, and Alliance Public Schools Ordered Invalidated
February 8, 2012 Los Angeles, CA :: Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones on February 6, 2012 entered a judgment against the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) and its Board of Trustees in a pending California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) case filed by the Van de Kamps Coalition – a Northeast Los Angeles coalition of groups and individuals who spent a decade supporting LACCD’s efforts to open a community college satellite at the former Van de Kamps Bakery on Fletcher Drive at San Fernando Road.
In Monday’s action, the Court followed up on a September 12, 2011 decision in which Judge Jones found that the LACCD Board violated its CEQA duties under state law by approving a lease of the 31,000 square foot New Education Building to a charter high school without preparing any environmental analysis of these significant changes to the use of the Van de Kamps Campus.
Monday’s court judgment ordered the issuance of a writ to the Board of Trustees commanding it to set aside the July 15, 2009 action approving the lease with the charter school and specifying that the District either return the Van de Kamps campus to community college use as originally planned in its environmental documents, or prepare a new Supplemental EIR disclosing to the community any of LACCD plans to change the campus to use as a leased facility to other non-community college users.
The charter school, Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, headed by former LAUSD administrator Judy Burton, has a Board of Directors that includes former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and Eli Broad’s Foundation, both dedicated to expansion of charter school options in Los Angeles.
At the September 8, 2011 trial, Judge Jones expressed concern about balancing the interest of the community, represented by the Van de Kamps Coalition, in immediate compliance with environmental commands, against the interests of school children in their current year of studies at the Alliance’s Environmental Charter school campus. In October, the Court invited the parties to propose ways to write the judgment and writ that balanced the interests of the Van de Kamps Coalition and the Alliance School. Initially, the Court asked the parties to try to negotiate the wording to reach an agreement, if possible.
“Our proposed judgment gave the District and the Alliance School plenty of time during the current school year to plan to transition the Alliance School out of the Van de Kamps site and return the $86 million bond financed campus to its intended community college use. It was based on the testimony of Alliance officials at the July 15, 2009 Board meeting assuring them and the public that it is normal for Alliance School to start at one location to incubate a school and then move it once or twice to a new location for permanent operations,” said the Coalition’s attorney, Daniel Wright. “We have emails from Judy Burton saying that Alliance School is nimble and expert at moving charter schools and we relied on those assurances,” he said. In October, Burton signed a sworn statement to the Court claiming that Alliance School could not plan the move of the school in one year, contrary to her earlier representations to LACCD and the public.
The attempts to negotiate between the Van de Kamps Coalition and District/Alliance School attorneys broke down by late November. “They did not want to take any responsibility for how they violated the law,” said Laura Gutierrez, a Coalition member who spent years working on the community college plans before officials in 2009 quietly handed the campus to non-community college users like the Alliance School. “At one meeting with attorneys from LACCD and Alliance School, all they wanted to do was yell at us and refuse to consider the District’s own plan for opening this campus with profit-oriented classes that the LACCD already offers in other communities,” said Netty Carr, who in 1999 helped lead the first efforts to save the historic Van de Kamps building from destruction.
Apparently on the basis of some bad legal advice from its attorneys, on December 7, 2011, the LACCD Board of Trustees suddenly proposed to amend the leases of the buildings at Van de Kamps to try to impose on the Alliance School the traffic mitigation measures originally planned for the community college use in its original environmental documents. “We went to the Board meeting and pointed out that they could not evade Judge Jones’ decision by trying to claim they did not need to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Report,” said Miki Jackson, another long-time activist who worked to save Van de Kamps as a community college resource for Northeast Los Angeles.
Attorney Wright pointed out the glaring flaw of the Board’s action on December 7, 2011: “The Board of Trustees made a “finding” on the current record that no further environmental review like a Supplemental EIR was required by law which, incredibly was the exact opposite of what Judge Jones found was necessary in her decision. They literally took an official action to defy a judge,” he said. Despite having this pointed out to them at a public meeting, the Board approved the lease amendments without a word of public debate.
“After that, the LACCD’s attorneys drug out negotiations over the wording of a simple Joint Statement of the parties that would have reported to Judge Jones that we were unable to agree and she should just choose the wording from the orders proposed by the parties,” said Jackson. But the District seemed intent on dragging the process into the Christmas holidays to delay issuance of the Court’s final order (and thereby “buying” the Alliance School an extra year in the property without proper environmental review).
“After the holidays, the Coalition met to agree to attach a copy of the Board’s December action to the Joint Statement to Judge Jones, but then in mid-January, LACCD’s attorneys refused to share with me their newest proposed judgment and writ language they had written.” Wright said.
Frustrated with the District’s refusals to cooperate, last Friday, the Van de Kamps Coalition filed objections to the LACCD’s draft judgment and writ and reported to the Court the District’s December Board action. “We summarized in our objections how the Board took action in December in the midst of negotiations,” Gutierrez reported.
On Monday, Judge Jones, as is her right, took decisive action. She took the Van de Kamps Coalition’s proposed judgment from the Court file and signed it to enter judgment. “We always thought that our proposed judgment was balanced to protect the Alliance school children through the end of the current school year,” said Jackson. “The LACCD would have been better off if they had agreed to our judgment last fall instead of defying Judge Jones with the new Board of Trustees action in December and delaying entry of the judgment. Now, they will have to rush to complete the environmental work they should have been doing all along,” said Gutierrez.
Under the terms of the Court’s order the LACCD will have 45 days after the Clerk issues the writ, to decide whether it wants to return the Van de Kamps New Education Building to community college use, or face the community in the Supplemental EIR process to try to justify giving a new lease back to the Alliance School.
“We’ve always had a simple request of the Board: Let’s find a way to open the $86 million taxpayer-financed Van de Kamps campus for our young adults who desperately need the community college opportunities promised by the Board of Trustees for more than a decade,” agreed Jackson, Carr and Gutierrez.