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Lawsuit Hinders Use of School Gyms

Fountain Valley suit blocks large gatherings at new facilities. Mayor, however, says 'city doesn't want to be punishing children.'

January 12, 2003|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

As Principal Cameron Malotte watched a dozen sixth-grade girls play a lively-if-not-so-skillful game of basketball Friday afternoon, he admitted that a P.E. class is not the most exciting use for Spring View Middle School's new gym.

For now, though, that's basically all the Huntington Beach school can do with it.

The 18,000-square-foot gymnasium/auditorium -- one of four built in the last year at Ocean View School District middle schools -- was finished a month ago. Since then, it has hosted physical education classes and an after-school basketball game. A schoolwide rally is set for Thursday.

Other uses originally envisioned -- evening athletic events, band concerts and plays -- that would draw more than 175 attendees have been blocked by court order after Fountain Valley sued the district for not meeting planning requirements. The district includes schools in Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach.

When Fountain Valley residents near Vista View Middle School grew concerned about parking and traffic issues, they asked for help, Mayor John Collins said.

Although Huntington Beach didn't join in the suit, the ruling applies to all four gyms.

"The city doesn't want to be punishing children for a lack of cooperation from the governing bodies," Collins said, "but when there's going to be a burden on the neighborhood that causes my constituents to suffer, that's when we get involved."

Fountain Valley and a group of neighbors originally sued the district for not completing an environmental impact report. A judge permitted the facilities to be built, but at the district's risk.

School Board President Barbara Boskovich said the district was incorrectly advised that an environmental impact report was unnecessary.

"The district did what we thought was right," she said.

At the most recent hearing in December, the district offered a plan that would require event attendees to park at remote locations such as high schools or community colleges, then take a shuttle to the school gyms.

A judge directed the district to revise its plan to include an enforcement mechanism. A Jan. 20 court hearing is scheduled.

"On the face of it, their plan sounded pretty good," Collins said. "But it has no teeth. People who live half a mile from the school aren't going to drive another five miles out just to take a shuttle back unless there's some sort of policing action that compels them to do it."

School district officials are considering plans to distribute event tickets at the remote parking locations to force people to use them. The school board will vote on the proposal Tuesday.

Malotte said he wants to see students and the community get full use of the new facilities.

"Right now we don't want to ruffle any feathers," he said, "but these gyms were built for a lot more than a P.E. class."

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