An attorney for the sisters of the Ramona Convent School is recommending that they sue the city for denying their request to sell part of the school's land.
Saddled by debt after replacing an administration building destroyed in the 1987 Whittier earthquake, the sisters were hoping to raise money by selling a baseball field on the school's 19-acre campus. But the City Council last week thwarted the plan when it denied the sisters' request to divide their property at Glendon Way and Marengo Avenue and make the ball field a separate parcel.
"It's going to be my advice to them to sue the city for inverse condemnation," said Roger Sullivan, an attorney for the 100-year-old school. If the sisters prove the city is, in effect, taking their property without compensation, Alhambra would be ordered to reverse its decision, he said.
In rejecting the sisters' application last Monday, council members cited the city's need for open space. City planners said splitting the lot would be inconsistent with the land use and environmental requirements of the city's General Plan.
"Another way of saying it is they want the sisters to hold the property for the benefit of the public," Sullivan retorted. "If they want it, they should pay for it."
Sister Margaret Spiller, principal of the all-girl, grade 7 to 12 school, said the convent traditionally has sold portions of its property when it faced hard times, such as during the Depression, and again in 1979.
"We would prefer not to sell it," Sister Margaret said. "We like to hang on to our land." But, she added, "At this point we really need to sell the property."
Loan obligations, including one incurred two years ago to demolish and rebuild the earthquake-damaged administration building, have put the convent about $750,000 in debt, Sister Margaret said. They must make about $100,000 in loan payments each year, she said.
Two potential buyers of the nearly two-acre baseball field backed out because the city was not willing to grant them variances to build senior citizen housing on the lot, which is zoned for open space, Sister Margaret said.
"We'd like to get a good price," Sister Margaret said, declining to specify the asking amount. "I don't know how many people would buy it for open space."
The delays may jeopardize programs for the school's 430 students, Sister Margaret said. "Our first priority is to provide quality programs for the girls." The board of directors for the Ramona Convent of the Holy Names, which owns the school, is scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the school's future.