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ORANGE COUNTY VOICES

Santa Ana Unified Will Pursue Building at Closed Marine Base

Tustin's plan excludes educational site. Bias lawsuit, eminent domain will be called into play if needed.

February 25, 2001|NADIA MARIA DAVIS | Nadia Maria Davis is president of the Santa Ana Board of Education

Last week, the Santa Ana Unified School District filed litigation to require the city of Tustin to help us cope with an additional 5,000 students that its Marine Base reuse plan will flood into our schools over the next several years.

The reuse plan completely excludes our district from any land conveyance whatsoever, even though 160 acres of the Marine base fall within district boundaries, and even though today, without the impact of the plan, more district students are crammed into portable classrooms than there are in the entire Tustin Unified School District.

When Tustin chose to ignore the pleas of our community, including a personal appeal from Bishop Jaime Soto, to give negotiations a chance before launching their reuse plan last month, we had no choice but to challenge Tustin's actions in court. We did this to protect the rightful claim of our children to land for schools on that federal property.

Our lawsuit is only one indication of how far we must go for our schoolchildren in the face of the disturbing resistance Tustin has demonstrated. The Tustin council majority has insisted that our district never had been excluded from participation in their base reuse plan. At a news conference, the council members, oblivious to the duplicity of their actions, could not have staged a more painful reminder of the unequal coexistence that has marked our relationship for the better part of the last decade.

As we have told Tustin repeatedly, we need more land, not cash. Our district is 98% built out. The Marine base represents the last vacant land that won't involve expensive and disruptive condemnation proceedings, or forced relocation of families and local businesses.

However, Tustin officials apparently will stop at nothing to keep Santa Ana schoolchildren west of the Costa Mesa Freeway. First, Tustin tried to cut the district out by claiming that Santa Ana Unified cannot build a school on the land that falls within its district boundaries because that land is 'too valuable" to be used for a school. Tustin plans a shopping center for that portion of our land. Then, when the district agreed to accept a comparable amount of land anywhere else on the base, Tustin refused, saying that Santa Ana Unified can't build a school on any land that isn't within its own school district boundaries.

In 1995, Tustin agreed to allocate 100 acres for a "Learning Village" that included an education coalition of three schools--Santa Ana Unified, Rancho Santiago Community College District and the South Orange County Community College District. Suddenly and inexplicably, without our knowledge, Tustin in September 1998 decided to change the agreement, allocating all 100 acres to the South Orange college district while shutting out the Rancho Santiago district and Santa Ana Unified.

The South Orange district has plenty of land it can develop on its two campuses. In comparison, Santa Ana Unified is 98% minority and 85% low income. What is going on here?

Under Title VI regulations of the Department of Defense, local redevelopment agencies, such as the city of Tustin, cannot make selections as to who will receive free land at a military base, if such selections will have either the purpose or effect of discriminating against ethnic minorities, such as Latinos. In other words, even if the action is not intentionally discriminatory, if the outcome results in discrimination, it is contrary to the law.

Therefore, the question is this: Is depriving Santa Ana Unified of land for schools having either the purpose or effect of discriminating against students?

Given these facts, an analysis of Tustin's actions leads to one logical conclusion: The ethnic makeup of Santa Ana Unified's student population is a factor. At a minimum, it will impose a hardship on the children.

Santa Ana Unified does have further legitimate remedies that we hope we are not forced to employ, including a federal discrimination lawsuit and, ultimately, eminent domain.

Tustin City Manager William A. Huston has been diplomatic and has tried to negotiate in good faith. We hope the City Council will follow his lead. If, through negotiations, Tustin grants us a reasonable amount of land to build a new school, we won't have to resort to these costly and time-consuming actions. But as our recent lawsuit demonstrates, make no mistake: If it forces our hand, we will do whatever it takes to ensure a quality education for our schoolchildren. They are the future of our county.

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