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Compromise Reached on High School Site

Times Staff Writer

Rolling Hills and the Palos Verdes Peninsula school board have reached a compromise on establishing a continuation high school on the outskirts of the exclusive community, thus averting a new round of costly legal battles.

Under terms of the deal, which awaits final approval after technical details are worked out, the city agrees not to pursue a lawsuit aimed at blocking a move of the Rancho del Mar school into the closed La Cresta Elementary School on Crest Road just outside the city’s gates.

The city also will use its zoning authority to help the district sell the La Cresta site to a developer at the highest possible price--an important concession for the financially strapped school system.

In return, the district agrees not to keep the continuation school at La Cresta for more than two years--a feature that apparently satisfies residents of Rolling Hills. Some residents had opposed having in their city a continuation school that would provide the special educational services needed by students who work, are pregnant or have had other difficulties at a regular high school.

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No Permanent Home

Lost in the trade-offs was La Cresta’s designation as a “permanent home” for Rancho del Mar--a determination that the outgoing school board reached only a month ago after an extensive environmental study that, along with related legal moves, cost the district about $200,000.

School officials declined to speculate on where Rancho del Mar might eventually wind up, saying the district would cross that bridge when it comes to it. However, if the quest for a permanent home is renewed by the new school board selected by voters in the Nov. 5 elections, it will presumably cover alternative sites considered in the environmental study.

The main alternatives were relocating to the closed Margate Intermediate School in Palos Verdes Estates, setting up portable buildings on a soccer field below the Rolling Hills High School in Rolling Hills Estates, and leaving the continuation students where they are now--in “temporary” quarters on the high school campus.

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“When the time comes, the board will have to study all of its available options” in choosing Rancho del Mar’s permanent home, said board President Martin S. Dodell.

Flexible Agreement

He said the flexibility of the agreement leaves open the possibility that the school might stay at La Cresta longer than two years, if the two sides agree to an extension.

“The agreement gives us a breathing period in which the fears of the Rolling Hills community may be allayed,” Dodell said. “Rancho del Mar will be on test, so people can be sure we will be doing our very best to prove that we can be a good neighbor.”

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He suggested that Margate may be eliminated as a possible future site for Rancho del Mar if the district is successful in obtaining long-term leases on that property.

Rolling Hills Mayor Pro Tem Godfrey Pernell said the agreement this week “was as much as we could hope for in the circumstances. Both sides got part of what they wanted and I think the feeling now is to work together, instead of standing in each other’s way.”

First Effort Blocked

Last year, Rolling Hills persuaded a judge to block the district’s first effort to establish its continuation school at La Cresta on the grounds that a required environmental impact study had not been properly prepared. Otherwise, the judge said, the district had the right to override local zoning ordinances that restrict changes in the educational use of school property.

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School officials hastily set up makeshift quarters for the continuation school on the Rolling Hills campus, then began a painstaking effort to draft a legally correct environmental study. After reviewing the alternatives in a series of hearings, the trustees zeroed in again on La Cresta.

From the school board’s standpoint, the clincher in the compromise with Rolling Hills was the city’s offer to upgrade the zoning of the 31-acre La Cresta site to enhance its market value. Efforts in the past to dispose of the property have been frustrated in part by uncertainties over the city’s willingness to rezone the land to suit a residential developer.

An appraisal in July placed the market value of the property at $1.8 million--only a fraction of what district officials believe the land will bring if it is given favorable zoning.

$5-Million Estimate

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District spokeswoman Nancy Mahr said $5 million was the figure “tossed out” as La Cresta’s potential value when the district last considered selling the land to help relieve its financial problems.

She said the district also will have to find a new location for the warehouse and maintenance facilities now at La Cresta.

Rancho del Mar Principal Kelly Johnson said the move to La Cresta will be made during the semester break at the end of January at a maximum cost of $6,000. Up to 150 students will attend classes there, he said.

To help make Rancho del Mar a more attractive neighbor, he said, particular attention will be paid to such factors as traffic, parking, fencing and restrictions on smoking.

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“The kids have earned the right” to a campus of their own, Johnson said. “I have no problem with using the next two years as a testing period, because I know what these youngsters can do when given a chance.”


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