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Builder Files $2.5-Million Claim, Saying Schools Reneged on Land Deal : Development: Warmington Homes says ABC board breached an agreement on building 61 houses.

October 20, 1994|PSYCHE PASCUAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Costa Mesa builder has filed a $2.5-million claim accusing the ABC Unified school board of reneging on a deal to develop houses on 13 acres near Whitney High School in Cerritos.

The claim filed by Warmington Homes against the district accuses ABC officials of breaching an agreement on the building of 61 homes near the high school.

The builder took legal action after the school board earlier this month deadlocked 3 to 3 over a business plan that would have allowed the $18-million project to proceed.

Board members Cecy Groom, Howard Kwon and Sally Morales Havice opposed the plan. Voting in favor were David Montgomery, Robert Hughlett and Dixie Primosch. Board member Jim Weisenberger was absent.

The school district's approval of the business plan and transfer of property from the district to the developer were the last major hurdles before construction. The school board last year approved an agreement to sell 13 acres to the developer for $7.7 million, and the Cerritos City Council tentatively approved the development this past summer.

But the project's future became clouded after last November's election, when a new board majority came to power.

Groom, the school board president, said she opposed the project because parents and students had raised safety concerns about a parking lot that have never been resolved.

"We are only listening to the community . . . and students," Groom said.

Warmington officials and their attorneys declined to discuss the claim, which is required before a lawsuit can be filed against a public agency. But board members who support the development say it would have brought in money to repair schools around the district. Warmington planned to give the district about $100,000 once the developer had taken over the property, a vacant lot next to the Whitney campus. The project's proponents contend the deadlock could spell economic doom for ABC.

The board members who voted against the project "put us into a multimillion-dollar liability situation," board member Dixie Primosch said. "They violated the contract."

The legal dispute could further cloud ABC's financial future, county school officials said.

The county Office of Education recently approved the district's budget for the 1994-95 school year, lifted a freeze on a teachers' contract, and removed a fiscal adviser assigned by the county earlier this year to help draft the district's budget.

But in a sternly worded letter to the district, officials warned that ABC's financial problems are not over. Mounting legal fees and an unfavorable court decision in the dispute with the developer could affect the district's financial health, one official wrote to the district.

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