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  • Friday, July 26, 2013




    A Diverse coalition of over two hundred converge on OUSD meeting

    Community in Revolt

    Hundreds rally
    Over two hundred people attended the Orange Unified School Board meeting on Thursday night for a rally and to voice their objection to the proposed high density apartment development complex at the district owned former Peralta Jr. High School site. Most of the crowd stayed late into the evening for the Peralta lease agreement presentation.

    Orange Councilman Alvarez addresses OUSD Board
    A sea of orange shirts, signs opposing the development and a rally organized by the Save Peralta Property group and the Orange Peralta Neighborhood Association greeted the Orange Unified Trustees convening before the scheduled Closed Session.

    Closed Session Agenda Item 4D was listed as Conference with Negotiators for the Peralta project. The Trustees waved the 20 minute rule per one topic rule and took public comments from opponents of the Peralta development for 30 minutes before the Closed Session. Orange Councilman Mike Alvarez spoke last to the OUSD Board offering to work jointly with the trustees to find a solution adding “I don’t understand why you would choose a path that would divide the community”.

    The Trustees then adjourned to closed session and returned after 45 minutes to start the regular Open Session. 

    Many tell trustees "I bleed orange".
    Returning to the Board Room for the Open Session, the Board was again greeted by an overflow crowd most wearing Orange with signs opposing the development. Trustee Diane Singer asked that Agenda Item 13 C on the Peralta Site be heard first out of order. Trustee Rick Ledesma suggested all the Agenda’s Information items be taken first in order because Item 13 A had information on district enrollment demographics that he felt was related to the need for the Peralta site as a future school. In the end, Singer’s motion to take the Peralta item first, then the rest of the information items passed 5-2 (Surridge and Ledesma voting No).

    After extending the time limit twice to allow all the speakers to speak, the Board listened to over an hour of Public Comments- all of them opposing the Peralta site. The dozens of speakers included residents from Orange, Villa Park and Anaheim Hills- many of whom identified themselves as life-long residents and products of OUSD schools, and others who have lived here for multiple decades. Among them was Orange Councilman Dennis Bilodeau (who legally could not opposed the item yet, but urged another path), former  Villa Park Councilman and Foothills Sentry Publisher Richard Callahan, community leaders and activists, members of the Orange Chamber of Commerce, realtors, business persons, teachers, parents and students. Not one community member spoke in favor of the development.

    Interwoven with arguments against the potential traffic were school issues, city services issues, the projects economic viability, and the length of the lease. Many of the speakers recognized the need for money to fix and repair outdated school facilities and while praising the trustees for thinking outside the box in creative financing, they urged them to partner with the growing political momentum against the project to pass a Bond measure.

    After exhausting all the public comments, the Trustees heard from the district negotiators- an attorney and a consultant to review portions of the Option Agreement and Ground Lease agreement that had just been released to the trustees and public.  Many of the items reviewed were directly related to some of the financial issues brought up by opponents, but the legal terms and the cut-and-paste aspect of the presentation-combined with the late hour-had members of the audience, staff and trustees visibly struggling to keep up with the power-point presentation. 

    Trustee Diane Singer responded to the presentation by saying that with such a complicated document, the trustees needed time to digest the information. Singer also wanted the questions that the trustees had to be answered in an open meeting to keep things “completely transparent”.

    Concerns over the July 31st, negotiating deadline also caused confusion.  The attorney stated that that deadline had been met with the lease document that the trustees now had. Singer replied that it was a “draft” document and not the final. The attorney explained that the Board now had time to review the “negotiated” draft, and ask for changes from Fairfield LLC. Fairfield then could accept the changes or reject them- no further negotiations would take place-thus the July 31 negotiating deadline had been met.

    As the trustees struggled on how to approach the complicated steps of reviewing the document, having questions answered, making a request for changes to Fairfield, then changing the draft into a final document and scheduling an action item vote, it became clear that the problem of timing would play a key factor. Singer wanted a open discussion before a vote was scheduled on the lease to facilitate any needed changes. Surridge wanted to schedule a yes or no vote on the day of any discussions. Trustee Moffat suggested a two-meeting approach- a Special Session Study Session, then a scheduled Action Item vote. In the end, the timing and scheduling referred to OUSD Superintendent Michael Christensen. The Superintendent reminded the trustees that each step would produce lengthy public comments from the community.

    In the follow-up questions to the property negotiators, the negotiators revealed that in the lease, Fairfield gave the district the generous rent percentages included in exchange for the district receiving no percentage of profit “if” Fairfield sold the development. It became clear form the consultants that selling the complex was a major issue in the negotiations. It was also revealed that because the district will not have a say in who ultimately owns and manages the apartment complex, it was important for the negotiators to include the capital improvements fund until year 89 of the lease. Other items discussed included the fact that any company owning the buildings could borrow against them, but not the land.

    In answering a question form Mark Wayland, the consultant confirmed that after the 99 year lease, OUSD would receive all the buildings. At that point, if the district wanted the land, they would be responsible for demolishing and clearing the 100 year old apartments. 

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