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VALLEY FOCUS | Calabasas

Homeowners Sue Over Jewish School

September 04, 1998|SUE FOX

The plan to build a Jewish Orthodox boarding school on Mureau Road has sparked a sign-waving protest and hours of opposition testimony at county hearings, but this week the Mountain View Estates Homeowners Assn. took its case to court.

The homeowners, who live in a 385-home development less than half a mile from the school's property, filed a Superior Court lawsuit Monday against Los Angeles County Director of Planning James E. Hartl, who granted a "clean hands waiver" in July that allowed the school to continue operating with 10 students. The suit seeks to force the county to revoke the waiver.

Mesivta of Greater Los Angeles has applied for county permits to build a school for 150 boys on the 8.5-acre site. In March, Mesivta had requested the clean hands waiver. Hartl's approval allowed the county to process the school's permit applications even though classes had started classes last year in existing buildings without a conditional use permit.

In July, the county Regional Planning Commission opened a series of public hearings to consider whether to approve Mesivta's permits. Many Mountain View homeowners have objected to the school, contending its impact on traffic, drainage, oak trees and other issues require further study. On Friday, Hartl's office referred a media inquiry about the suit to John Schwarze, an administrator at the Regional Planning Department.

"There are cases, such as schools," Schwarze said, "where the director has the option to decide that this is an important use to the public at large, and he has the option of then granting this waiver, which lets [the applicant] go to hearings." He estimated that the department grants five or six such waivers a year and rejects about the same number.

According to county ordinances, a school must be accredited to continue operating. The ordinance does not define the term. The crux of the homeowners' lawsuit is that the Mesivta school is not accredited, said Nick Brestoff, the attorney representing the homeowners.

The Planning Department has accepted an accreditation letter from Torah Umesorah, a New York society that accredits Hebrew day schools, as sufficient, said county case planner Julie Moore. The Mesivta school is also a candidate for accreditation with the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges.

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