Proposed high school already making waves

Although it's more than three years away from completion, Irvine's fifth high school is already causing a furor in the council chambers.

Or at least its location is.

Instead of a 40-acre parcel in the northeast part of the city, City Councilman Larry Agran suggested using one of two spots close to Trabuco Road.

"This is the worst site," he said about the 40-acre parcel, labeled Site A.

At Tuesday's meeting, Agran proposed two alternative locations for the school, saying Site A is in a remote area where no residential development has been planned for the next five years, and it is too far away for students in Woodbury, Stonegate, Portola Hills and other neighborhoods.

While developer FivePoint Communites plans to build 5,800 residential units close to Site A, the homes would be within the Saddleback Unified School District, catering to El Toro High School, he said.

School district lines are not always consistent with city boundaries.

Agran also objected to the site being 1,000 yards from Musick Jail, which houses 1,000 inmates in a low-security setting but in time will be transformed to hold 3,100, and eventually 7,500, maximum-security prisoners.

According to Irvine Unified School District Supt. Terry Walker, the site is already in escrow and the district is on the verge of creating an environmental impact report, or EIR. The district is communicating directly with FivePoint Communities, also known as Heritage Fields, he said.

"Our enrollment projections show that we need this school completed by the fall of 2016, and that timeline is extremely important to us," Walker said. "This far down the road, the issue for the school board obviously would be if it looked at an alternate site ... it would obviously prolong the 2016 opening."

This move puts the district and the city way behind the eight ball, Councilwoman Christina Shea said.

"Having this discussion tonight and wasting our time again when ... the train's left the station ... it's two years too late basically," she said, adding that the alternate sites wouldn't serve a purpose because they would create a bottleneck very close to the main entrance of the Great Park.

Andreas Chialtas, a lawyer for the school district, said the board had remained open to suggestions through 2011 and into 2012. In the absence of a formal proposal, "Ultimately, we had to move forward and couldn't wait," he said.

Eventually the council voted 5 to 0 to receive and file the discussion.

The sites could be reviewed if an issue were to arise later or if the EIR were to fail, Shea said.

"It's not our job to dictate to the school district or Heritage Fields where they're going to build their fifth high school," she said. "We really don't have oversight with this. ... It would be like the district reviewing one of our development plans and thinking that they have the right to do that when they don't."

In response, Agran promised to spend the next few days working to suggest a site to the school from within city-owned land.

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City attorney selection

As of Tuesday, Irvine's Mayor Steven Choi and Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Lalloway make up an ad hoc committee that will facilitate the selection of a city attorney. They will review applications and whittle the pool to a handful of top contenders, from which the council will pick one.

The council voted 4 to 1 on the motion. Krom voted no.

The council recently ended the city's contract with Costa Mesa-based Rutan & Tucker, which provided legal services to Irvine since its incorporation 40 years ago.

Richard Jones, owner of municipal law firm Jones & Mayer, is currently the interim city attorney.

Krom questioned the process and the basis on which the hire would be made.

"Any firm we bring in today is going to come in with zero knowledge about anything happening in the city," she said. "I just want to understand what role we as an entire council have in defining the interest behind the search for a new city attorney. I just don't really understand what it is these two individuals ... what they're being empowered to do and what the parameters of their search are going to be."

She lamented that she and Agran could spend six months on vacation and that their absence wouldn't affect council matters, a reference to their two-person voting bloc.

Choi assured the council members that a transparent hiring process would be conducted, along with thorough interviews.

He took offense at Krom's line of questioning, which he described as "ridiculing our intelligence."

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