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Huntington Park leaders vote to ban new charter schools for a year

Huntington Park leaders vote to ban new charter schools for a year
Parents and charter school supporters protested a moratorium on new charter schools in Huntington Park on Tuesday. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Huntington Park City Council members voted Tuesday to ban new charter schools in the city until next fall.

The 4-1 vote extended a 45-day moratorium passed last month after city officials complained about the number of requests for new schools and said they were concerned about increased traffic.

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Charter schools are publicly funded but often are privately run. Unlike most traditional public schools, they can accept students from anywhere, not just from the neighborhoods around them.

There are about 30 schools — including 10 charters — within the city's three square miles, though some share campuses.

In a September report to the council, City Manager Edgar Cisneros itemized what he saw as the problems new charter schools create. "Communities within the vicinity of charter schools have experienced impacts to vehicle circulation, parking, and noise," he wrote.

The report suggested that a "high number of inquiries and requests" from charters had prompted the call for a moratorium. The moratorium also  applies to existing charter schools that want to move and expand in new locations, Cisneros said.

But, although many charter schools have made inquiries, city records show only three in the last year actually said they planned to submit applications, said Huntington Park's economic development manager, Manuel Acosta. He could not give a count of the inquiries.

It's unclear whether the city has legal authority to enact the ban. Only school districts, counties and the state can authorize or reject charter schools. Cities, however, do control zoning and can decide whether or not to grant permits.

The California Charter Schools Assn. has said it may sue the city over the moratorium.

The city is attractive to charters because its zoning policies are looser than those of other nearby cities, Acosta said. The moratorium, he said, will allow the city to spend time looking at other municipalities such as Long Beach and South Gate to see how they've kept their charter counts low.

"Let's do some research and figure out why are we so popular?" Acosta said in an interview.

Huntington Park Mayor Graciela Ortiz said students in the city have enough choices already. Rather than pulling in students from other cities, she wants to see a greater focus on revitalizing businesses and opening parks to improve the quality of life for Huntington Park residents.

Both charter advocates and opponents attended Tuesday's council meeting. Each side wore color-coordinated shirts and showed up carrying signs.

On one end of the chamber, a woman sat holding a white poster that said, "Give us a chance, save our charter schools." Close by in the crowded space, another woman stood with a yellow poster that read, "Stand up to unregulated charter schools!"

Reach Sonali Kohli at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com or on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli.

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