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San Juan Sports Site OKd

Junipero Serra High will build on a likely Indian burial ground. City gets money in lieu of taxes.

October 19, 2002|Dave Mckibben | Times Staff Writer

San Juan Capistrano city officials have cleared the way for a planned parochial high school to build an athletic complex on a 29-acre parcel believed to contain an American Indian burial ground.

Junipero Serra High School boosters had forced a special January election, seeking voter permission to rezone the property on the north end of town. City leaders, concerned that they might lose room to negotiate with school officials should the initiative pass, struck a deal this week in which the school will pay the city up to $200,000 a year in a student "head tax" and cap enrollment at 2,000.

School officials had hoped to attract as many as 3,000 students. The high school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2003 with about 300 to 400 ninth- and 10th-graders.

The compromise was endorsed by David Belardes, the state-recognized representative of the Juaneno tribe, but was rejected by other factions of the local tribe, many who spoke at a packed City Council meeting Tuesday.

After about three hours of debate, the council voted 3-2 to rezone the property for an athletic complex and an adjacent parcel -- the Sycamore Commons office complex -- for school office and class space.

As part of the agreement, the school will include California Native American history as part of its curriculum, permit Juaneno and cultural activities around the school's athletic complex and dedicate monuments on campus commemorating the tribe's religious and political leaders.

The designated grave sites -- there are believed to be seven -- will not be disturbed by the athletic grounds, according to the negotiated deal.

Belardes could not be reached for comment, but tribal manager Joyce Stanfield Perry said the school's plan "is sensitive and meets our goals of preservation and education."

The $200-per-student "head tax" will help make up for the tax revenue the city would have earned had the land been developed with a 450,000-square-foot hotel and office complex most recently planned for the site.

City officials say the original deal would have generated about $1 million a year in taxes.

"I don't think it was a real tough call," said Councilman David Swerdlin, who voted for the compromise.

"It's nice to have that tax base, but we'll now have a site more fitting to San Juan's ambience, with athletic fields and open space. I'd much rather have this than 450,000-square-feet of cement."

Since the council approved the plans, the initiative won't appear on the ballot.

Serra backers had struggled to find a home for three years.

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