TORRANCE — In an effort to avoid more court fights over its attempt to purchase a closed school site, the city has made the Torrance Unified School District an unusual offer:
The city will give the district $1.6 million to deposit and draw interest on if the district turns over the site while negotiations continue over the sale price.
In addition, the city said it would pay the district the difference between the $1.6 million and the final purchase price plus interest, provided that the final price does not exceed $1.875 million.
When talks for the 3.4-acre Greenwood School broke down in July, $1.6 million was the city's final offer and $1.875 million was the district's final asking price.
Good Until Nov. 1
City Manager LeRoy Jackson said the offer was sent to the district last week and is good until Nov. 1. He said the offer was made in response to complaints from the district that the city's efforts to block the sale of the school site to private developers has cost the district thousands of dollars in potential interest earnings.
"It's another step to see if we can arrive at resolving the dispute," Jackson said. "We're exploring all the avenues that we think we can afford."
School Supt. Edward Richardson was unavailable for comment.
City officials said they expect the district to proceed with its application for a waiver from a state law, called the Naylor Act, that requires the district to offer the site to the city first, at less than market value. The city wants to buy the property for a park.
The state Board of Education has twice rejected the district's application, saying it did not fulfill some of the requirements. The board will decide on the resubmitted application on Nov. 7.
If the state grants the waiver, a preliminary injunction issued last week prohibiting the district from selling the site to another buyer and a city lawsuit seeking to force the district to sell the site to the city, would become moot, according to a lawyer for the state board.
"The lawsuit is citing the Naylor Act, and the waiver proposes to waive those parts of the Naylor Act that are the obstacles," said Roger Wolfertz, the state board's attorney. "It appears to me that if the board grants the waiver, the injunction and the lawsuit are mooted out."
If the district does not receive the waiver next month, it may run out of time. Last month the governor signed a bill that will make it more difficult to receive a waiver after Jan 1.
Bob Carpenter, an aide to Assemblyman Robert W. Naylor (R-Menlo Park), who authored of the Act, said that after that date a district will be required to prove that an area's educational needs outweigh the public's recreational need before a waiver is granted.
Leroy Hamm, who oversees waiver applications for the state board, said he expects the new law to reduce the number of waivers granted, but he would not say by how much. He said that under the current law nearly all waiver requests are granted.
Another new law, introduced by state Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim), that takes affect Jan. 1 will require cities to rezone closed school sites that they are not interested in purchasing so that the zoning is compatible with the surrounding area. In the past, cities have rezoned closed school sites for open space, virtually eliminating all potential buyers except municipalities, Seymour said.
A bill authored by Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro) that would repeal the Naylor Act was withdrawn from consideration this summer but is expected to be brought up again next year. Felando and Assemblyman Dominic Cortese (D-San Jose) will hold a public hearing on the issue in Los Angeles in December before the bill is again brought before the Assembly.