Santa Ana's mayor and a fellow City Council member have entered the contentious school board campaign to promote two candidates they said would work to stop a controversial school from being built in the city's affluent north end.
In a mailer sent this week to residents near the planned Lorin Griset Elementary School, Mayor Miguel A. Pulido and Councilman Brett Franklin urged people to vote for candidates Oscar Garza and Lupe Moreno on Tuesday. They said a new school board majority could "reverse the decision ... and allow homes to be built" instead.
Garza and Moreno are among six challengers to seats now held by Santa Ana Unified School District Trustees John Palacio and Nadia Maria Davis, who are seeking second four-year terms.
The race is part of an effort to wrest control from Palacio, Davis and Trustee Nativo Lopez, who faces a recall election Feb. 4. Davis is viewed as the ideological ally of Palacio and Lopez on the five-member board. She has tried to distance herself from them in recent weeks.
Many blame the three for failings in the heavily Latino 62,000-student district, which despite improvements in recent years still scores among the lowest in the state in standardized tests.
Some also accuse Lopez of improperly promoting bilingual education in the district, which he denies. Ron Unz, the businessman behind Proposition 227, the successful 1998 measure curbing bilingual ed, has donated to the Lopez recall drive. He also has given a total of $18,000 to Moreno and Garza, wanting to unseat Lopez's allies.
Lopez and Palacio say their opponents are fueled more by their objection to the new school, a source of friction between the current school board majority and city officials.
Last year, the city approved a luxury home complex for the empty nine-acre lot between Flower Street and the Santa Ana Freeway. The severely crowded district, which is trying to find land to build new schools, took the property by eminent domain.
Some who live nearby have complained that the new school would serve mostly students from outside the neighborhood and disrupt their quiet streets. Advocates of the school say there are very few empty lots available in the city for school construction, and they accuse the opposition of being motivated by class and ethnicity.
"The issue in this election is about whether or not to build a school in the affluent north end of the city," Palacio said.
Palacio has spent more than $25,000 on his campaign in the last month alone, according to financial statements filed Friday with the registrar of voters. That is more than any other candidate has reported to date. Palacio also reported in-kind donations worth $12,000.
Palacio said Friday that he has no time to respond to the latest mailer endorsed by the mayor and councilman Franklin. But he noted that his district has already spent close to $2.5 million planning the school.
Franklin declined to comment in detail, saying the flier spoke for itself. Pulido did not return calls requesting comment.
Moreno said that, if elected Tuesday, she would vote to stop construction of the school. "I want schools built where people want them built and where the children are," she said.
Garza promised only to reevaluate the school plan, saying, "Nothing is certain."
Some residents criticize the mailer, noting that city officials have called the district slow to build schools under Measure C, a $145-million bond measure passed in 1999.