LONG BEACH — Already filled to capacity and expecting 10,000 additional students in the next five years, the public school district here has filed suit against the Alamitos Land Co. and the cities of Long Beach and Signal Hill to block a proposed development that could house up to 1,400 new children and their families.
The lawsuit, filed in Long Beach Superior Court, contends that Alamitos Land Co.'s proposed development of 96.5 acres overlapping the two cities' boundaries will "impact and burden schools by generating school-age children within the district's attendance area."
The issue arose in January when the city published a draft environmental impact report that described the effects the proposed development would have on city services.
According to the suit, the environmental report said that if the Long Beach Unified School District cannot house new students in neighborhood schools near the proposed development, it could easily bus them to less crowded schools in other areas of the city.
School administrators disagreed, and are asking the court to rescind the Long Beach Planning Commission's approval of the environmental impact report. They also are asking that no building permits be issued for the development until plans are made to build new classrooms to house additional students.
"To make no provision for skyrocketing enrollment resulting from additional housing will only consign thousands of children to overcrowded schools, long bus rides and ultimately double sessions," Board of Education President Arlene Solomon said in a written statement.
"The school district does not oppose redevelopment or new housing construction as long as the impact on schools is recognized and funding for additional classrooms is provided by those responsible for attracting the increased enrollment."
In April, the school district released a study saying that for the first time in 21 years, its 79 schools will be filled to capacity when classroom doors open in September. The study cited increased birth rates, new housing construction and immigration with raising enrollment to 61,749 for the 1984-85 school year.
An additional 1,682 students are expected in September, the study said, and by the 1989-90 school year, 72,382 students are expected to attend Long Beach schools.
Suit Considered Premature
Jean Smith, vice president of Alamitos Land Co., said the lawsuit is premature because her company has only created a "conceptual plan" for the site.
Of the 96.5 acres, only 34 acres--split evenly between Long Beach and Signal Hill--will be designated for possible residential development. No construction is planned yet, and no projects are up for approval in either city, Smith said. To date, Long Beach has approved only the environmental impact report and the conceptual plans for development. Nothing on the development has been put before Signal Hill.
"We have not proposed any specific development at this time," Smith said. "All we are doing is trying to set the rules so we can develop in the future. We do not intend to develop the residential parcel ourselves. We would be looking for a developer for the parcel, and they would decide their own specific plan for the site."
The proposed development site is bounded on the north by Hathaway Avenue and National Guard property; on the east by Termino Avenue; on the south by Reservoir Drive East, 20th and Hill streets; and on the west by Temple, Orizaba and Obispo avenues.
'Out of the Question'
Robert Parkin, Long Beach city attorney, disagreed with the premise of the lawsuit--that the environmental report is inadequate--and argued that the development would not flood the school district with new students.
"The other thing they are seeking is a mandate from the court to ask the City Council to levy developer fees to build new schools," Parkin said. "Because of separation of powers, the court cannot mandate such a legislative act, so we think that kind of remedy is out of the question."
To David Aleshire, Signal Hill city attorney, the school district's suit is frustrating and completely unnecessary. For the past several months, officials from Signal Hill and the school district have been discussing crowded school conditions and the possibility of levying fees on developers to pay for more classrooms, Aleshire said.
"We have asked them for additional information," Aleshire said. "It is something the city is willing to consider if the data supports the request. But we're not happy with the fact that the school district has decided to take a litigation approach."
What is more frustrating, he said, is that Signal Hill already has imposed a 10-month building moratorium for residential development, and no new homes are under consideration. "It doesn't make a great deal of sense," Aleshire said.
No hearing date has been scheduled.