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They've Only Begun to Fight in Capistrano

Foes of Junipero Serra High School's proposed athletic fields start circulating petitions.

September 17, 2004|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Opponents of Junipero Serra High School's plans to build athletic fields and a performing arts center in San Juan Capistrano have begun circulating petitions to force the City Council to rescind its approval of the $75-million project or put it before voters.

The council approved the complex in northwest San Juan Capistrano this month over the objections of Native Americans, environmentalists and neighbors. Some members of the Juaneno band of Mission Indians believe as many as 200 of their ancestors are buried on the 29-acre parcel.

The week-old signature-gathering process has been marred by several arguments, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Department, and an allegation that a petitioner assaulted a school supporter.

"It's been ugly," said Marc Spizziri, a co-founder of the Roman Catholic school. He said project opponents have hired professionals to aggressively gather signatures.

"We're outmanned. We have parents and local volunteers [campaigning against the petition drive] and they have these experienced activists," Spizziri said. "The tactics they're using are bullying. They're chasing people to their car and following them to the stores until they sign."

The petitioners, who call themselves the "Spirit of Capistrano," are circulating two referendums -- one that opposes the development agreement and another opposing the architectural component. City Clerk Meg Monahan said if petitioners gather about 1,750 valid signatures by Sept. 30 or Oct. 7, depending on the specific petition, special elections could be called as soon as mid-January.

Petitioners include residents of a nearby condominium complex, a few Juanenos and Doug Korthof, a Seal Beach environmental activist. Korthof said petition opponents were interfering with signature gatherers.

"The people have a right to circulate petitions," he said. "Interfering with it is just dirty pool. A project this big that affects this many people should be put to a vote of the people."

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