San Juan Capistrano officials ordered a halt to construction of San Juan Hills High School on Friday after city inspectors concluded that grading had been started without the proper permits.
Capistrano Unified School District officials said that what inspectors observed was not grading, but part of an effort to protect water quality while brush was being cleared from the site.
"Apparently the work that was in question today was environmental protection work," said district spokesman David Smollar. "There is no grading going on."
Smollar said he expected that city and district officials would resolve the issue Monday without further legal action. But Mayor John Gelff said inspectors reported that they saw "hard grading, cutting into the land."
Before grading can start, the developer must apply for city permits and take steps to prevent erosion at the site, Gelff said. "All of us at City Hall today were a little taken aback," he said. "We're trying in good conscience to work with the district, but they seem to be moving forward without taking the proper steps."
The conflict is the latest kink in the plans for San Juan Hills, which is scheduled to open in 2005 and will be the city's only public high school.
A residents group has vowed legal action to halt construction, saying it defies the will of voters, who, in a November referendum, barred a development on the city's east end that included the school.