City Council to Discuss Suing School District

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The City Council will meet in emergency closed session today to discuss possible legal action against the Capistrano Unified School District over its reluctance to build new schools in northern Mission Viejo.

Mayor Sharon Cody told the district's Board of Trustees at its meeting Monday that property taxes collected to build schools in Mission Viejo's northern neighborhoods and throughout Aliso Viejo should benefit both areas equally or be returned to the taxpayers.

Cody charged that a disproportionate amount of the money, which is raised by a special tax assessment district, is going toward schools being built in Aliso Viejo and residents in her city aren't getting their fair share.

"I'm sure that it is unusual for a school district to get involved in a legal battle with a city, but we feel an obligation to see that (the tax money) is administered correctly," Cody said. "We've moved into uncharted territory, but we feel comfortable. The chance of sitting down with the district and coming to a consensus is pretty slim."

District officials responded by saying that the city has "no authority" to tell them how to spend the property taxes they collect.

Trustees rejected what they described as an "ultimatum" from the city, which in a memo requested that the school district build an elementary school in Mission Viejo on a 10-acre site at the corner of Alicia Parkway and Olympiad Road in the north part of the city.

"We do have overcrowding in Mission Viejo, but essentially it's in the southern part of the city," said Supt. James A. Fleming. "This is a site where we simply do not need a school. It would be irresponsible for us to build one there at this time."

Fleming, however, did not rule out the possibility that a school may be needed in that area in four or five years. He suggested that the city purchase the property, which is owned by the Mission Viejo Co., as a possible school site and either sell it to the district in the future or turn it into a park.

Cody said it is not the city's responsibility to purchase the land, which must remain vacant as a possible school site until 1994 as part of a development agreement made with the Mission Viejo Co.

Trustees said that it is not uncommon for residents of one city to be taxed for schools that will be built in another community.

"We have a unified school district and, historically, the older generation takes care of the newer generation," Trustee E.G. (Ted) Kopp said.

Kopp also called the city's threat of legal action "stupid."

"This is the most unprofessional thing I've ever seen in trying to represent the people," Kopp said. "That's no way to work something out, especially when we haven't had the opportunity to explain to the residents the way these things work. There has been a lot of misinformation being passed around."

The special tax assessment district formed in northern Mission Viejo in 1987 was one of five such districts that have sprouted up in the area to help pay for construction of new schools. Capistrano Unified has received about $93 million in tax assessments for new school construction to date.

Cody, who has been investigating the school district's use of Mello-Roos funds for more than three years, said the city has no intention of backing away from the issue.

"We feel the rights of our citizens are being violated," Cody said. The school district "would like us to back out of the picture, but we can't allow that to happen," she said.

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