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Orange Schools to Sell Barham

District accepts the county's sweetened offer of $4.5 million for the undeveloped area. Critics said the schools should get more.

October 25, 2002|Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writer

After a nightlong debate, the Orange Unified school board Thursday approved the sale of a large swath of oak-filled hills to the county for park space, ending a decade of wrangling.

The 5-2 vote came after Supervisor Todd Spitzer told board members the county would increase its offer for the property to $4.5 million--a $300,000 increase over the county's previous proposal.

The 509-acre Barham Ranch property is surrounded by Irvine Regional, Santiago Oaks and Weir Canyon parks.

Area residents have fought for years to keep it from being developed.

The county Board of Supervisors, led by Spitzer, voted in August to set aside $4.2 million to buy the prime open space.

But an appraisal completed for the school district in September put the value of the land at $10.2 million.

"History will be the judge of how and what we decided tonight," said school board president Bob Viviano, who voted against the county's offer.

Critics said the school district should hold out for more money.

"It is irresponsible to sell Barham Ranch for a mere $4 million," said Deborah Pauly, a Villa Park Elementary School parent.

"I feel almost like the county is stealing out of the mouths of our babes, the children who attend schools in this district," she said.

But school board member Kathy Moffat, who voted in favor of the measure, said the county's proposal was fair, and that no higher offer had come in.

"We are in the school business," Moffat said.

"The sale of this land to the county for a decent monetary return will give us money to use for desperately needed facilities, and return to our true mission."

Most of the people in the standing-room-only crowd agreed with Moffat.

Richard Chrystie, a father of twin 1-year-old girls, said he has enjoyed hiking in the rugged hills for years, and that the board should acknowledge the county's offer is reasonable and realistic.

"This is a win-win solution. The public will enjoy this land in perpetuity and the school district will get $4 million. The county's offer is real," Chrystie said.

Earlier in the week, Orange Park Acres resident Theresa Sears, who helped spearhead efforts to preserve the land, said the latest appraisal was flawed because it did not include comparable values of area properties, instead relying on sites in Topanga Canyon and elsewhere.

Many in the audience said the money was badly needed for new schools, and to improve aging, overcrowded facilities.

Facing competition from Thursday night's Angels-Giants World Series baseball game, the school board brought in a television so the audience to keep track of both events.

A committee convened by the board this summer concluded the Barham Ranch property should be disposed of because it was not suitable as a school site.

It sits behind a dam in a flood plain, and is inaccessible to vehicles.

The cost of building a road and bringing in utilities would be prohibitive, the panel found.

The now-defunct Carpenter Irrigation District sold half the ranch to the school district in the 1970s for $80,000, with the stipulation that it would be used for educational purposes. To meet that requirement, the county will offer outdoor educational programs on the site.

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