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Supervisors May Reverse School-Site Vote

Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Board of Supervisors, threatened with a possible court battle over its refusal to sell six acres of land for a school site to the overcrowded Santa Ana Unified School District, will consider whether to reverse its stance, county officials said Friday.

County Counsel Adrian Kuyper said the board is scheduled to meet in closed session Tuesday to discuss whether to wait for the school district to file a lawsuit against the county, then reach an out-of-court settlement to sell the property. The board also could reconsider the sale proposal and approve it, Kuyper said.

The reversal plan was offered by Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, whose district includes Santa Ana and who, along with Board Chairman Harriett M. Wieder, voted last week to approve the sale.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Supervisors Gaddi H. Vasquez, Don R. Roth and Thomas F. Riley voted to reject the proposed land sale, saying that the county should not relinquish ownership of any of its property until the issue of where to build additional county jails has been resolved.

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The county should also wait, they said, until voters have decided on a jail-site initiative that is expected to be placed on the ballot in June, 1990. That initiative, if approved by voters, would require all future jails to be built in Santa Ana.

The board’s action stunned and angered school district officials, who had been negotiating with the county for more than two years for the property, located near the county operations center at Grand and McFadden avenues, and had agreed on a $3.2-million sale price. The land was considered--and rejected--as a jail site several years ago.

As Santa Ana residents and city officials expressed outrage over the board’s action, the school board the following day voted 4 to 0 to file a lawsuit against the county to acquire the land. Officials in the county’s largest school district have said that they must build an elementary school on the site as quickly as possible to relieve severe overcrowding at existing schools.

Riley said he was not averse to changing his mind on the land sale.

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“I didn’t say I was willing” to vote for the land deal, Riley said. “I’m saying I have an open mind. Frankly, it’s very difficult to have been part of a decision to deny an opportunity for schoolchildren to have a school.”

Since Tuesday, Riley said, he had learned that even if the jail-site initiative is approved, the language of the initiative would prohibit the construction of a jail on the six acres because it is too near Century High School, which is under construction around the corner.

Vasquez, who had come under particular criticism because he led the opposition to the land sale, said he has been discussing the concerns that led to his vote Tuesday with Kuyper and County Administrative Officer Larry Parrish.

“If I can find comfort in the information and explanations I receive, this matter may be resolved,” Vasquez said.

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Roth said he had received no new information since Tuesday to make him change his vote. “However, I’m a reasonable man and I’m willing to talk about anything,” he added.

If the land-sale proposal is reconsidered by the board, its approval would require a 4-1 vote, rather than a simple majority, because the matter involves disposal of property that has not been put up for competitive bidding. Only three of the four supervisors, however, would need to approve an out-of-court settlement.

On Friday, Stanton reiterated his prediction that the county would lose a court battle with the school district, which would have the right of eminent domain over the property if it could show it can put the land to a “higher use” than the county and is offering just compensation for it.

“It is certain that (the six acres) is not a potential jail site, so why in the world go through a court fight,” he said.

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Stanton added that he has not been lobbying his colleagues over his settlement proposal because “I feel that good sense and logic do not need any coaxing.

“I have confidence in the power of common sense,” he said.


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