LA VERNE — The trustees of the burgeoning Bonita Unified School District on Wednesday approved a tentative agreement with developers that they hope will lead to construction of a long-awaited elementary school in north La Verne.
The board voted unanimously to ask city officials to grant final approval to the 225-unit Live Oak project.
In return, Hassan Izad, president of Live Oak Development, and two other developers who have bought portions of the project, volunteered to pay the school district $340,000 in addition to the $800,000 in building fees required by state law.
Those funds would constitute about 20% of the estimated $5-million cost of the proposed school.
Commitment to Children
"Our first commitment is to house the children," said board President Sue Moran, predicting that the number of elementary-age children in the district will grow by 530 in the next three years even without the Live Oak development.
The agreement hinges on final approval of the housing project by city officials, who have been working to limit development in the area precisely because no school exists to house new students.
"To me, the 20% in the bank is of very little value when you need 100% of a school," Mayor Jon Blickenstaff said of the $1 million in building fees. "Our only response at this point could be one of opposition."
Izad, a Los Angeles developer, whose homes would bring a projected 66 children into the area, said that he lost $100,000 last month because of the city's efforts to limit development and will continue to lose a similar amount for every month the process remains stalled.
Project's Future Threatened
"If we do not move on in some sort of expeditious manner, we will not be here talking about the project. . . . It will be the bank or the city or some other party that has taken over the land," said Izad, who proposed the Live Oak development seven years ago.
The district, which serves 9,000 students in La Verne and San Dimas, began planning for a new elementary school early last year, but was forced to abruptly halt its efforts in December when La Verne landowners overwhelmingly defeated a assessment district that would have raised the full $5 million.
Caught without the anticipated revenue, the district requested that the city delay or ban residential construction until enough money could be collected to build the school.
The city staff currently is studying methods for reducing the density of undeveloped areas of La Verne, a process that would make it financially unfeasible for projects such as Live Oak to be constructed.
"The bottom line is that they are willing to pay a little bit (of) extra money so they can build their houses," said City Manager William Sheldon.
Concern for Children
"The council doesn't really want to stand in their way," he said, "but our concern is not to protect the profit of some developer, but to protect the people who live here and to ensure that they have a quality educational system."
School board members, however, described the agreement as a step toward resolving a growing problem.
Building fees collected from developers other than those for Live Oak over the next three years could bring the district within $500,000 of the money needed, district officials said.
"In the six years I've been here, this is the closest we've come to getting started," said board member Frank E. Bingham. "I can't see that approving this agreement between us and the developer can be detrimental to anybody."
Besides being more than required by law, school officials said, the $1 million to be collected from Izad is important because the district can collect interest on the money or use it to purchase portable classrooms if necessary.
Differ on Projections
But city officials differed with the school district on growth projections for the area, insisting that the district was overly optimistic about the building fees to be collected from other developers.
"I hope it'll be enough money to work out," Blickenstaff said. "But that's an unanswerable question at this time."
If the city does not approve the housing project within 120 days, Izad has the option of terminating the agreement with the school district. District officials are hopeful that the city will approve the concept.
"If we let this thing get put back into cold storage," said district Supt. James T. Johnson, "it's going to be very, very hard to get it out."