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Packed Schools Want Slice of Boom Pie

August 03, 1986|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A yearlong truce in a legal battle between City Hall and city schools has produced no municipal commitment to help pay for new classrooms, and some frustrated school officials say it is time to dust off old demands for a city-imposed fee on developers.

"We are certainly going to have to rethink our position in terms of what we are doing about our lawsuit," said Elizabeth Wallace, school board member and one of its representatives to a liaison committee that began meeting after a nasty public flare-up last September.

The city has approved construction of about 2,500 new dwellings and several major commercial projects during the last year "without any consideration of the (school crowding) problems we have, especially in downtown Long Beach," Wallace said in an interview last week.

The Long Beach Unified School District, faced with a projected 2,200-student increase this fall, capacity enrollment by next fall and a jump from 64,000 students to 88,500 by 1999, has pressed the city for financial help for the past two years.

In a peacemaking effort, however, the district stopped filing legal objections to new development projects l2 months ago and last fall withdrew a lawsuit in Superior Court that had sought to force the city to consider the effect of new construction on school enrollment.

Indeed, both City Council and school board members agreed last September that they should work together to gain more state money for classrooms.

But as each recent new development has been approved, and the school district has let pass the opportunity to object in court, the schools have forever lost the possibility of gaining taxes from the new construction. School officials feel they have gained little in turn, Wallace said.

She and other school officials said they had hoped that a new city environmental impact report on the Downtown Redevelopment Zone would buttress their argument that throughout the city, growth has lured more students to local schools. But that new environmental report rejects the school district's claims, said Roger Anderman, executive director of the city Redevelopment Agency.

'Minimal Number of Children'

"There is a minimal number of children generated by the redevelopment process," Anderman said.

So now, Wallace and others are saying that good intentions are not enough. It is time, they say, for the city to come up with money for schools either through a citywide developers' fee or property taxes in redevelopment areas.

Wallace, in fact, said she would raise the issue with the rest of the five-member Long Beach Unified School District board "very soon." Arlene Solomon, the school board's other member of the liaison committee, said that she, too, is disillusioned. "We don't want to fight with the city, (but) they've been evasive. . . . We need to be more pro-active," Solomon said.

A third school board member, James Zarifes, agreed. "We're not getting the problem solved. I don't think it's un-American to sue the city. This is business."

Complaints Surprise Mayor

In response, Mayor Ernie Kell, who first suggested the liaison committee to relieve tensions and was a committee member himself, said he was surprised by the school officials' complaints. The joint committee has not met since January because of City Council elections and appointment of new schools Supt. E. Tom Giugni, said Kell.

School officials were to determine precisely how much state funds for construction might come their way, then call another meeting with City Council representatives, Kell said.

The City Council might approve some sort of financial aid for the schools, Kell said. Withdrawal of the school district's lawsuit "created a tremendous amount of good will on the City Council, and I definitely don't see the council saying that we're not going to help them at all," he said.

The city has consistently maintained that most new construction has had only a negligible effect on school enrollment and that severe crowding in downtown schools is the result of immigration of large Latino and Southeast Asian families.

Fees on developers--usually imposed in growing suburban communities to pay for new roads, utilities and schools--might unfairly discourage new construction here, city officials have argued.

Buttressing the resolve of city officials not to act quickly on school district requests was a report last September by City Manager John Dever that criticized school district officials for seeking developers' fees instead of working harder to get available state funding.

Other Financing Sources

Indeed, Deputy City Manager J. Edward Tewes said last week that a number of state fund sources look so promising that there may be no need for city funds. The city, along with the school district, is backing a November state ballot measure that would forward $800 million to districts for new construction, Tewes noted. And the city has supported proposed legislation to lift a ban on using California Lottery revenues to pay for more classrooms, he said.

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