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Glendale Unified commits to challenge Sagebrush territory decision

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On Monday, the Glendale Unified school board voted 5-0 to file an appeal after the Los Angeles County Commission on School District Organization voted to transfer the Sagebrush territory from Glendale Unified to La Cañada Unified’s control.
(Raul Roa/Glendale News-Press)

It took less than a week for the Glendale Unified School District to deliver a two-pronged response to a historic decision by the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization.

Last Wednesday, the committee voted 6-3 to agree with a petition from some La Cañada residents to transfer a roughly 380-acre piece of property, called the Sagebrush territory, located in La Cañada Flintridge but served by Glendale Unified since the 1940s, from Glendale Unified to La Cañada Unified.

The vote overturned decades of precedent.

On Monday, the Glendale Unified board voted 5-0 to file an appeal of the decision with the state board of education.

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Simultaneously, through the vote, board members agreed to file a lawsuit in superior court challenging the results of a mitigated negative declaration conducted during a study tied to the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, of the Sagebrush territory.

“The board has voted… to give legal counsel direction to initiate two actions and that the actions, the defendants and other particulars shall, once formally commenced, be disclosed to any person upon inquiry,” Glendale Unified board president Jennifer Freemon said during the board meeting.

Stephen Dickinson, the district’s chief business and financial officer, laid out three options for the district as a response to the committee’s decision.

Besides the legal challenge and appeal, Dickinson also offered a choice to let the process continue and try to win an election involving local voters, who would decide whether or not to ratify the handover.

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The vote would likely happen during the 2020 November presidential election.

Glendale Unified’s board chose the first two options, which Dickinson said could happen at the same time.

“We have not yet filed the appeal or lawsuit, but this sets our course of action,” Freemon said after the meeting.

Glendale Unified has until Nov. 1 to file a notice of appeal and a lawsuit.

While the appeal is self-evident, board members did not specify what aspects of the declaration they would challenge.

However, James Bodnar, president of the Crescenta Valley Water District’s board of directors, expressed concerns during the county committee meeting last Wednesday.

Bodnar listed “five major flaws” against the transfer in his declaration, including his interpretation of a lack of environmental impacts to Glendale Unified, transfer students and Mountain Avenue Elementary in La Crescenta, which stands to lose a significant number of students because of a territory transfer.

Those concerns did not stop the county committee from agreeing to accept the CEQA findings prior to voting for the territory transfer.

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Should Glendale Unified’s attempts to stop the territory transfer fail, the district stands to lose between 151 and 355 students, according to the CEQA study.

La Cañada backers have consistently maintained the true number is lower and somewhere near 151.

According to Dickinson, Glendale Unified will lose at least $2 million annually in revenue because of the reduction in students.

Up next, the committee will decide which residents should be allowed to vote in an upcoming election to decide the transfer’s fate.

County education staff recommended both school districts be eligible to vote, which was resoundingly voted down by the committee, 8-1.

The committee has contemplated a combination of La Cañada, La Crescenta and Sagebrush residents.

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