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Transfer of ‘Sagebrush’ territory from Glendale Unified to La Cañada approved by LACOE

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Residents and officials from the La Cañada and Glendale Unified School Districts, including La Cañada Unified Supt. Wendy Sinnette, third from right, on Wednesday convened at the Los Angeles County Office of Education where the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization voted to approve the transfer of the Sagebrush territory from Glendale Unified’s stewardship to La Cañada Unified.
(Raul Roa / La Cañada Valley Sun)

Decades of precedent were overturned Wednesday when the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization voted 6-3 to accept a petition to allow the transfer properties that lie in a section of western La Cañada Flintridge nicknamed the “Sagebrush” territory from Glendale Unified control into La Cañada Unified.

Wednesday’s vote, which went contrary to the recommendation of county staff, was the culmination of a fourth try that began Nov. 23, 2015 with the filing of a territory transfer petition with Los Angeles County from the grassroots group UniteLCF, comprised of residents of the affected territory.

The debate over whose schools would better serve Sagebrush students is long and storied — previous and highly contested petition attempts date back to 1961, yet district boundaries have remained unchanged.

“We’re happy with the county committee’s decision that put La Cañada and Sagebrush families first,” La Cañada petitioner Nalini Lasiewicz said after the vote was taken. “This doesn’t mean the process is over, but it’s nice that our families were recognized and their struggles weren’t ignored.”

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The impending transfer is at least a couple of years away and still must be ratified by voters in the affected regions. The earliest possible vote would take place in the November 2020 presidential election.

One action reserved for Glendale Unified, though, is an appeal, and the district has 30 days from Wednesday to file a notice with the state Board of Education.

“We have to figure out if we want to appeal,” Glendale Unified board president Jennifer Freemon said. “Really, for us, it’s what’s in the best interest of our district and what’s in the best interest of our kids.”

At the heart of the matter is a roughly 380-acre, 900-parcel territory of 783 homes located entirely within La Cañada Flintridge city limits that has been under Glendale Unified’s stewardship since the 1940s.

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Students living in that territory who want to attend the La Canada Unified schools have had to petition annually during a roughly one-month window in the spring.

Otherwise, those students are typically enrolled in Glendale Unified schools in the La Crescenta area: Mountain Avenue Elementary, Rosemont Middle School or Crescenta Valley High.

Since 1961, “Sagebrush” residents have attempted to break away four times, with previous petitions in 1961, 1979 and 1991 failing.

Beyond the petition requests under consideration, there were two matters to decide. The first was to accept the results of a California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, study commissioned in May 2017 after the county committee approved on a preliminary basis the transfer petition.

The environmental study was first read on Oct. 3, 2018 and noted that between 151 and 355 students would be affected. The move will cost deficit-spending Glendale Unified between $2 million and $2.7 million annually.

While there were some objections from Glendale backers, the CEQA study was approved by the county committee.

However, the panel left some unfinished business as it could not decide on the voting area for the upcoming election.

LACOE staff recommended the entirety of both school districts be eligible to vote, which was rejected by the committee, 8-1.

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The county committee will vote in an upcoming meeting whether to limit the voting area to just Sagebrush residents and La Cañada Unified voters, or to include portions of La Crescenta.

Wednesday’s meeting included comments from 43 speakers — 25 for the transfer — including La Cañada Mayor Leonard Pieroni for the transfer and Crescenta Valley Town Council President Harry Leon against the move.

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