The Moorpark Unified School District does not have to sell part of its former high school site to the city at a reduced price, the state Supreme Court has ruled.
The decision could delay for years the development of a downtown park, which officials had hoped to locate at the site, city officials said.
The court's ruling, made public Monday, reversed a lower court decision that supported the city. The Moorpark City Council had contended for 2 1/2 years that, as a government agency, it was entitled to buy the former Moorpark Memorial High School football field at a discount.
The high court concluded that the claim was invalid because the city had no contract with the school district and had no formal negotiations over the purchase price, Supt. Thomas Duffy said. The city simply made an offer of $319,000 for seven acres of the 26-acre school site, and when the district refused the offer, the city filed suit, Duffy said.
"I'm very disappointed," Mayor Paul Lawrason said of the court's decision. "It just absolutely amazes me."
Lawrason said the council will discuss the court's ruling at its meeting Dec. 18. The mayor said he will suggest that the city look for an alternative site.
"I don't know where we're going to go from here," he said.
Newly elected school board member Clint Harper, who was on the City Council when it brought the lawsuit against the district, said there are no winners in the court decision.
"It doesn't matter whether I'm wearing the hat of a city councilman or that of a school board member; I'm disappointed in the outcome," Harper said. "The main losers in the battle are the children in the downtown area. Unfortunately, I think this means they will be without a park for several more years."
The legal dispute between the school district and the city stems from a disagreement over how the former school site should be developed and how much the entire 26-acre location is worth.
School district officials said the land has been appraised at about $6 million, but a city consultant has estimated its worth at about $4.2 million.
The city had maintained throughout the litigation that under the Naylor Act it was entitled to purchase 30% of the property for 25% of its market value. However, Duffy said the district is exempt under the law because it needs the money from the sale of the land to purchase another school site.
The district wants the city to approve high-density development for the school site to generate more revenue to build a new elementary or middle school. But the city contends that the downtown area cannot handle a large increase in traffic.
Harper said the school district and the city will have to change their positions if they want to resolve the matter.
"Both will have to give some," he said. "I have always tried to take the position of what is best for the community in general. This should not be a City Council issue or a school board issue."