La Cañada school board member Joel Peterson this week acknowledged living part time in a house in Glendale, but an attorney for the district said it won’t affect his seat, calling the residency requirement “pretty much a non-issue.”
Peterson, who has served on the board since 2005, said he has been living part time in a house in the Emerald Isle neighborhood in Glendale — an area along Chevy Chase Drive just south of the La Cañada Flintridge border — for “several months.”
The change in address followed a divorce and remarriage, Peterson said, adding that he continues to spend a significant amount of time at a rental property in La Cañada, where he also maintains his voter and vehicle registration.
Local elected officials are required by state law to reside within the district they represent, but Howard Friedman, legal counsel for La Cañada Unified, said Peterson could retain his elected position after taking all the appropriate steps to maintain his financial, legal and social ties to the community.
“Obviously, if someone lived in their house in Santa Barbara and came down for board meetings every couple of weeks, that is a bit of a problem and one that would draw significant attention,” Friedman said. “But when you have a number of factors supporting residency within the district, I think it is pretty much a non-issue.”
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has not received any formal complaints about the matter, said spokeswoman Jane Robison.
And Peterson said he plans to purchase a home in La Cañada soon.
School district officials said they were made aware of the issue early on and referred it to the district’s attorney for review.
“The concern was vetted through the district’s legal counsel, whose opinion supported that Mr. Peterson’s situation met the standards or requirements related to residency,” district Supt. Wendy Sinnette said in an email.
Courts define a person’s residency by more than where they sleep, Friedman said. Personal and financial roots are also significant factors, he added.
“It is not just where you put your head down each night to go to sleep, but where you file your taxes, driver’s license and vehicle registration,” Friedman said.
Past legal cases surrounding issues of residency show that courts tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the public servant who has been elected, he added.
“Courts have said, ‘If I exhibit some intent of ultimately getting back within the district, than I probably have passed muster for purposes of residency to be eligible,’” Friedman said.
Peterson said that he has been approached by members of the community asking him about his legal address and that he has taken the time to sit down with them to discuss the situation.
“I am completely transparent on it because I wanted to do exactly what was the right thing,” he said.