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Orange County

San Juan School Gets Green Light

Judge rules against slow-growth group. Capistrano Unified can proceed with the city's first public high school in 40 years.

May 31, 2003|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

Construction of San Juan Capistrano's first public high school in four decades can proceed, a judge ruled Friday, rejecting the arguments of a slow-growth group.

Plans for the 2,000-student campus have divided the community since voters rejected the proposed Whispering Hills housing development on the city's east end -- which included San Juan Hills High School -- and the Capistrano Unified School District moved to override local zoning.

The conflict centers on whether voter opposition to Whispering Hills in November included the school or was only intended to block construction of the 175 homes.

Because Citizens Against Uncontrolled San Juan Expansion is a private group rather than a city or a county, it can not sue a school district over zoning issues, Orange County Superior Court Judge Jonathan H. Cannon said.

In addition, Cannon said, the statute of limitations had expired for some of the group's claims, such as the assertion that the grading plan exceeded what was necessary.

"Your arguments are innovative, but unpersuasive," Cannon told the group, which also sued the city for not objecting to the school's construction.

"We win," said David Doomey, associate superintendent of facilities planning for Capistrano Unified. "The kids win."

A "selfish, not-in-my-backyard approach" was motivating the citizens group, he said, not the best interests of children.

The ruling disappointed members of the citizens group, said San Juan Capistrano resident Lon Uso, who was named along with the organization as a plaintiff.

"We gave it our best shot," Uso said after the hearing in Santa Ana. "What is truly sad is that the city, [which] is supposed to represent the interests of the people, chose not to do so."

The group plans to continue its fight against the new school, including pursuing information that the district may not have turned in the required applications to the state to move ahead with construction.

Doomey would not comment on what the group may do, except to note that previous claims were filled with "pieces of misinformation."

Cannon had halted construction at the site May 15 pending Friday's hearing. The district hopes to start grading the site Monday.

A new campus is needed to relieve overcrowding in the district's four high schools, officials said. By fall 2005, San Juan Hills' scheduled opening, the district has projected that enrollment at each of the other campuses will exceed 3,000 students.

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