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Valley Perspective

Businesses Should Not Be Targeted for New School Sites

LAUSD's politically motivated policy of not using eminent domain to take residential property is counterproductive for communities that also need economic development.

August 06, 2000|FRED GAINES | Fred Gaines is the managing partner of the law offices of Gaines & Stacey in Woodland Hills and is vice chair of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn

As the boom economy finally begins to reach the older commercial areas of the San Fernando Valley, there is both pent-up market demand and available investment capital for cultivating new commercial projects and redevelopment.

However, this convergence comes at the same time that the Los Angeles Unified School District is focusing its eminent domain efforts on using only commercial sites for new schools, a move that is counterproductive for communities that need both schools and economic development.

The district now projects a shortage of more than 86,000 classroom seats by 2006 and is searching for sites on which to construct 12 primary centers, four elementary schools, two middle schools and six high schools in the Valley alone.

Finding locations on which to build these new school facilities is no easy task. The job is complicated by politically driven decisions that include the current policy of not using eminent domain to take any residential property for school sites. The Belmont Learning Complex fiasco has also made the reuse of industrial sites politically untenable.

As a result, LAUSD has instead targeted important commercial sites for eminent domain. Some of these are occupied by long-standing businesses. Others are in some phase of economic redevelopment.

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The fact that the district adheres to a policy of not considering residential property for school sites, even when such property might be most suitable for new schools, puts commercial properties and new commercial development at a greater risk of government takeover.

Unfortunately, this means that LAUSD has focused its efforts in the Valley almost entirely on converting active commercial properties into schools. One plan would use eminent domain to eliminate 300 high-paying management positions at the Robinsons-May regional headquarters at Laurel Plaza. Another would stifle plans for the redevelopment of the Valley Plaza Retail Center. Government takeover of these properties would result in the loss of hundreds of jobs, substantial tax revenue and millions of dollars of private investment in the community.

The Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. (VICA) is calling on LAUSD to consider the full range of potential impacts on local communities in locating new schools, as well as opportunities afforded by school reuse, retrofitting and flexible sites. The district's current policy of avoiding use of eminent domain on residential properties must be revisited to reflect the hard reality of the supply and demand of available sites in the Valley and throughout the district.

To achieve both goals, VICA has called on the Board of Education and the state of California to develop school siting "red teams" modeled after Gov. Gray Davis's business retention and attraction efforts. The creation of school site red teams could ensure that the multiple levels of state agencies responsible for individual school site review authority are coordinated, that duplication is minimized and that reviews are consistently processed in a timely fashion.

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VICA recognizes the enormity of the crises caused by the shortage of public school facilities. The government's efforts to meet this challenge must be coordinated and streamlined. All possible options, including the use of residential, commercial and industrial properties, must be explored.

Nobody likes to have their property taken by the government. Despite the constitutional guarantee that just compensation be paid, property owners are rarely fully compensated for their losses. In all instances, the taking of private property should be a last resort, and the business community should not be singled out as the school district's primary target of eminent domain.

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