An Encino Municipal Court commissioner ruled against a Pacoima preschool Wednesday, ordering it to move within 40 days and to pay the landlord’s attorney fees and damages of more than $6,000.
Ruben Rodriguez, administrator of Escuela de la Gente, called the assessment of damages vindictive and said the school would appeal Commissioner Joseph R. Ruffner’s decision. Rodriguez said the 75-pupil school will have to close if it does not have at least three months to move.
“It’s not like picking up the TV, the dog and the two kids and moving,” said Enrique Vela, who helped organize the school in 1979 and is seeking city permits needed for the move.
The school has been negotiating to move into a Pacoima Methodist church, but arrangements are not final. Vela said even if the church signed a lease this week, city and state permits and licenses would take time. Also, two of the school’s three classrooms are portable units that must be moved to the new site.
Escuela de la Gente, “School of the People,” was founded to provide a bilingual head start for children in the northeast San Fernando Valley. Many parents are single mothers who must work or go to school for their children to qualify for admission.
Property owner Keith Markovitch notified the school last summer that its lease would expire in September, then issued an eviction order in December. However, Rodriguez testified during the court hearings this week that Markovitch told him he could probably stay six to nine more months.
Markovitch denied making that promise. He said Wednesday that he was pleased with the ruling, except for the 40-day delay. The property is in escrow with a mini-mall developer, he said, and the school’s eviction is one of the conditions of escrow.
“They knew for five years that their lease was going to come to an end,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the kids, I think it should’ve been immediate.”
Anticipating expiration of the lease, school officials had talked with another church for more than a year. Negotiations fell through in October, when the church’s regional board rejected the idea of housing the school.
During the hearing, Markovitch’s attorney, Steven Harrison, said his client should not be blamed for the school’s problems.
“It’s not my client’s fault,” Harrison said. “He should not be forced to bear the risk and expense. It’s the fault of Escuela de la Gente. They put all their eggs in one basket. They were unwise.”