City settles suit over tainted soil under new L.A. Unified school

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to settle a lawsuit over allegations that soil underneath a high school campus in Glassell Park was contaminated by chemicals that originated at a nearby city-owned property.

On a 10-0 vote, the council agreed to pay $2.5 million to the Los Angeles Unified School District and its law firm, Musick Peeler & Garritt, city officials said. The money will be paid from the city’s Sewer Operations and Maintenance Fund.

L.A. Unified filed a lawsuit earlier this year demanding $4 million to pay for cleanup at the new $239-million Sonia M. Sotomayor Learning Academies north of downtown.

In their lawsuit, district officials said industrial solvents and other hazardous substances had been found in soil at one end of the campus — and fingered land owned by the Bureau of Sanitation as the culprit.


Councilman Ed Reyes, whose district includes the 2,295-seat school, missed the vote. But in a statement, he said he supported the payment because “remediated land is important for the health of our kids.”

Wednesday’s vote provided yet another chapter in the complex history of the campus, which sits near the Los Angeles River. School officials were negotiating to buy the property in 2005 when real estate development company Meruelo Maddux Properties swooped in and purchased it.

The district sued. But three years later, the school board paid Meruelo Maddux $50 million for the property –- $18 million more than his company had spent.

During the peak of the real estate boom, Richard Meruelo — the head of Meruelo Maddux — was known as the largest landowner in downtown Los Angeles, a businessman who had spent nearly $200,000 to help Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa win election in 2005.

The company slipped into bankruptcy in 2009, and Meruelo is no longer involved.