Long Beach : School Board Votes to Acquire Residential Land

Residents and business owners reluctant to leave a four-acre parcel by Wilson High School will have to go, the Long Beach Unified School District decided this week.

In a 4-1 vote, the school board Tuesday night approved a plan to buy the properties bordered by Bennett and Ximeno avenues, between 7th and 8th streets. The land is needed to replace physical education facilities that will be lost, they said, when a proposed science building is constructed on a campus athletic field.

Board member Jerry Schultz cast the dissenting vote. Agreeing with the protesting homeowners and renters, Schultz said, "We're looking to seize an entire block of property to put in a soccer field."

Resident Maria Barnett, who had organized her neighbors to battle the district's plan, said her group may continue its fight in a courtroom. Barnett's Long Beach Neighborhood Coalition filed a lawsuit last month against the district. "They still have to deal with the owners, which is going to be a problem," Barnett said Wednesday.

One apartment building owner, Caryl Miller, told the school board, "I feel that uprooting people instead of trees and tennis balls is a violation of human rights."

Miller was referring to alternative plans that would have the school district acquiring Rogers Field, Billie Jean King Tennis Courts and Blair Field instead of commercial and residential properties. But those plans created other problems, according to district officials. They also raised the ire of tennis players such as Judy Elder, who collected about 400 signatures--and a letter from tennis champion Billie Jean King --in hopes of preserving the recreation areas.

School board members expressed sympathy for the residents. But the majority insisted that buying the four-acre parcel was in the best interest of students.

"We must come down on the side of education," board member Bobbie Smith told the approximately 100 people gathered for the meeting.

Teaching physical education, said board member Jenny Oropeza, is "a legitimate part of our mission."

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