Calabasas residents fighting the construction of a $15-million private school near their homes used a do-it-yourself environmental report Thursday to block Los Angeles County approval of the project.
The Board of Supervisors suspended Oakwood School's building request until the county conducts an official environmental review after hearing charges in the residents' report that there would be traffic, noise and flooding problems if the 17-acre campus were developed.
The supervisors said they will decide next month whether to further order the school, which would instruct 682 students in kindergarten through 12th grade at the new site, to prepare a formal environmental impact report for the project--something that might take until July to complete.
If it takes that long, the county board could end up forfeiting jurisdiction over the school project to a Calabasas city council, the supervisors acknowledged.
Calabasas residents are pressing for a June 7 ballot issue that could lead to incorporation of 10 square miles that include Oakwood School's oak-studded property on Old Topanga Canyon Road at the border of Calabasas Park and Woodland Hills.
The county's Local Agency Formation Commission is scheduled to rule Feb. 25 on the incorporation request. If commissioners approve it, the supervisors will meet March 1 to authorize placing the cityhood issue on the June ballot.
"The board's role in this matter could become moot," said Supervisor Pete Schabarum, referring to the school dispute. "Assuming cityhood occurs, it's out of our jurisdiction."
The delay pleased the school proposal's opponents, who privately commissioned a traffic study and drew up the independent environmental impact report to fight the project.
"I think we pointed them in the right direction," Rosemary Lichtman said of the supervisors. Lichtman is a leader of Calabasas Coalition for Fair Land Use, which opposes the project.
Lichtman predicted that any Calabasas city council probably would take a harsh view of the Oakwood proposal. She said leaders of many community groups already have publicly lined up against it.
Supporters of the plan, on the other hand, said they are confident of winning the city's support if the issue is delayed until after incorporation.
"I'm not nervous about cityhood," said James Astman, headmaster of Oakwood School, which since 1951 has been based in North Hollywood. "We're certain we have large support in the community. I'm entirely comfortable this is an excellent project."
However, the school will begin working on the formal environmental impact report so that it is ready when supervisors receive their own staff report, said Alden Chase, an Oakwood planning consultant.
"We can handle a delay until early June," Chase said. "If cityhood occurs, we'd be starting over. I'd like to get this settled before that."
The supervisors said they wish that a full-fledged environmental study had been required of Oakwood planners earlier in the county's review. They were clearly puzzled, since the two sides presented widely differing views of problems regarding traffic, noise and other factors.
A traffic study by opponents concludes that 1,755 cars a day will travel to and from the proposed campus. A study by supporters says that 855 cars will travel to and from the site daily.
Supporters say the low-lying campus site would shield nearby homes from intrusive noise, but opponents charge that the terrain would make the noise worse.
The two sides also clash over who best represents views of residents from affluent neighborhoods in Calabasas and Woodland Hills near the school site.
"An overwhelming majority of the people . . . are in favor of it," said supporter Susan Barnett, a Woodland Hills resident and leader of a group called Neighbors United for Oakwood School.
Retorted George Pomonick, a Calabasas resident and leader of the rival Calabasas Coalition: "I don't know who these 'Neighbors United for Oakwood' are. They sure don't live on my street."