Boy Scouts Drafted Into Argument Over Use of Closed School

Times Staff Writer

A battle between two governmental agencies heated up this week when the school district threatened to ban the Boy Scouts and other community groups from the Margate Intermediate School if the City Council adopts an emergency ordinance that could impede the possible conversion of the closed campus to a continuation high school.

"This is getting to the point of childishness," Councilman Ronald Florance said angrily after hearing from Scoutmaster Robert P. Wardell that the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District had refused to renew his Troop 970's permit to meet at Margate.

John G. Baker, president of the Lunada Bay-Margate Homeowners Assn., a group fighting a proposal to relocate the continuation school at Margate, charged that the district is "holding the Boy Scouts hostage" in an attempt to head off adoption of the zoning ordinance.

The district eventually decided to allow use of the school by community groups, but not before sharp words were exchanged at a special council meeting held to consider the ordinance.

Legal Advice

Assistant Supt. Janet K. Konzak, who attended the meeting on Tuesday night, said the district denied the permits on the advice of its legal counsel, Charles Greenberg, pending a clarification of the measure's intent.

Greenberg had earlier warned the council that his reading of a preliminary draft of the ordinance indicated that the district might not be able to allow continued use of Margate by community groups.

The district, he told the council in a letter last week, would have to go through an "unduly burdensome" application process before the Margate facilities could be used for virtually any school or community purpose.

Konzak acknowledged that the "temporary hold" on permits for community groups had been applied only to the Margate school, prompting a sharp exchange with council members over why that campus had been singled out when the proposed ordinance would apply to all schools and other open spaces in the city.

Tempers Cooled

Tempers cooled after Mayor James H. Kinney offered a "loud and clear" clarification of the intent of the proposed ordinance, which declares "a current and immediate threat to the public health, safety and welfare by proposed changes in use of land within open-space zones."

"Our intent is not to regulate curriculum, classroom activities, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the PTA, or Santa Claus," the mayor said. All of that, he said, is in the province of the school board, and the council would not have anything to say about any use of Margate that existed before the school's closure in June.

However, he added, the council has a legitimate interest in land-use changes--such as converting Margate from an elementary to a high school--that may have a potentially adverse effect on traffic, pedestrian safety, municipal services and property values.

That interest apparently will be asserted when the council meets again on Tuesday to consider the adoption of a final version of the zoning measure.

Called off Ban

The district has called off its ban on permits for community use of Margate in the meantime. The mayor's clarification, Supt. Jack Price said Wednesday, had alleviated concerns about the intent of the proposed city ordinance and the district will now expedite permit applications by groups that had previously met at the school.

The district also has extended its deadline--from Friday to Sept. 13--for receiving comments from the public on a consultant's report on the proposed use of either Margate or the closed La Cresta Elementary School in Rolling Hills as a permanent home for the continuation school. The school has been operating in temporary quarters on the Rolling Hills High School campus.

A draft version of the consultant's report concludes that putting the school at either site would have no significant effect on the surrounding environment.

In granting the extension, the school board abandoned plans to reach a final decision on the continuation school's location on Sept. 9. That decision will now be made in mid-October, Price said.

New Board Majority

The delay pushes the decision closer to the Nov. 5 school board elections, which some Margate-area residents hope will result in a new board majority.

The Margate residents bitterly opposed the closure of their neighborhood school. After losing that battle, they turned their efforts to blocking the use of the campus for the continuation school. They contend that the school for teen-agers with special educational needs will adversely affect property values and the quality of life in their neighborhood.

School officials are confident that the district could override any city zoning ordinance that restricts its use of the Margate site for any educational purpose. A state law prohibits such restrictions if the district does not act in a "capricious and arbitrary" manner in deciding how it will use a school site.

But the law also allows the city to appeal the district's decision to a superior court--and that opens an avenue for further delays if the school board opts for the Margate campus as the future home of the continuation school.

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