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Decision on School Site Unlikely to End Dispute

October 13, 1985|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

The Palos Verdes Peninsula School Board is expected to reach a decision Monday on where to locate the district's continuation high school, climaxing an 18-month struggle that created bitter divisions in the community and cost the financially strapped school system more than $200,000 in fees for lawyers and consultants.

Few of the participants in the battle, however, expect the board's decision to end legal and political wrangling over a permanent home for the school for teen-agers with special educational needs.

The four trustees apparently have narrowed their choices down to two closed schools--the Margate Intermediate campus in Palos Verdes Estates and the La Cresta Elementary School in Rolling Hills.

If the lame-duck board--two of the trustees chose not to run for reelection in November and a fifth post is open because of the resignation of one member earlier this year--selects the Margate site, it will immediately face another difficult decision: Whether to seek a conditional-use permit from Palos Verdes Estates, which recently passed an emergency ordinance designed to restrict changes in the use of school property--such as converting Margate to a high school--or to invoke its powers under state law to override local zoning measures.

New Obstacles

If instead the embattled trustees select La Cresta, the district may encounter new legal obstacles from Rolling Hills. Officials there went to court last year and successfully blocked the district's original plan to move the continuation school to the site just outside the gated portion of their exclusive city.

The school, called Rancho del Mar, is currently operating in temporary quarters on the Rolling Hills High School campus. Some residents of Rolling Hills and the Margate area contend that the school would have an adverse affect on neighborhood traffic, safety and property values--a view vehemently rejected by district officials.

The special meeting to consider a two-inch-thick environmental impact report and decide the issue will be held at 8 p.m. on Monday at the Valmonte Administration Center, 3801 Via La Selva, in Palos Verdes Estates.

Critics have urged the trustees to leave the continuation school issue to the new board to be elected in November. "They shouldn't impose their choice on the trustees who will have to live with it," said John G. Baker, president of the Lunada Bay-Margate Homeowners Assn., which unsuccessfully sued the district twice in the wake of a June, 1984, decision to close Margate.

Right to Make Decision

The trustees, however, insist that they have the right and duty to make the controversial decision. "We've studied mountains of information, including an awesome amount of trivia, and we've bent over backward to give everyone a chance to have their say," said board President Martin C. Dodell, the only trustee running for another term. "Now a decision must be made and we believe we are best suited to make it."

Dodell conceded that any decision the board makes is likely to provoke more costly lawsuits. "This is a very litigious community," he said. "People tend to rush to their lawyers when they don't get their way."

Ron Florance, a Palos Verdes Estates councilman, said "nobody wants a confrontation . . . but the district can't run roughshod over the cities either.

"What we have here is a problem in communication," he said. "We have been eager to cooperate with the board on its plans for Margate, but they don't seem to want to talk with us. . . . Even when terrorists seize ships or airplanes, a dialogue is maintained between the two sides."

Asked how Rolling Hills might react if La Cresta is chosen, Councilwoman Ginny Leeuwenburgh said: "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

She added that the city will be represented by two attorneys at the Monday meeting.

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