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San Juan Hills School Access Threatened by Proposed Apartments

School Board is urging City to deny zoning for apartments at San Juan Hills.

Jim Reardon, CUSD Trustee
Jim Reardon, CUSD Trustee

Last Wednesday, the Capistrano USD Board unanimously approved a resolution recommending that the San Juan City Council deny the application for rezoning connected with the proposed 100-unit apartment project on Vista Montana next to San Juan Hills High School. The resolution cites two reasons for this recommendation, 1) traffic, and 2) a capacity problem at San Juan Hills that may result in students residing in San Juan Capistrano being denied access to the school. I want to focus here on the latter issue.

When CFD (or Mello-Roos) financing is used to construct a school, those who pay the CFD tax have a priority access to the school. The law provides that this priority is proportional to the amount of money contributed from each CFD. Much of the money contributed to construct San Juan Hills originated in CFDs, the largest proportion coming from Ladera Ranch and Talega. Contributions from San Juan Capistrano CFDs have been very small. San Juan Capistrano has few districts and they encompass small areas (Pacifica San Juan, Rancho Madrina, and Valinda).

Some have argued that there is no reason to be concerned; that formal school boundaries govern enrollment. While not false, the statement is not helpful because does not consider all the factors that determine where a student enrolls in high school. The priority is a fact today and it is not connected with the school boundaries. When the time comes to adjust the boundaries, the school board will be bound to take the priority into consideration. CUSD will not be able to introduce boundaries that restrict access to the school contrary to state law.

CUSD has an open enrollment policy. Thus, many students have enrolled in schools outside of the formal school boundary framework subject to the capacity limitations of the receiving school. San Juan Hills is a receiving school now but it is almost full. With the opening of La Pata to Talega we can expect a shift in Talega enrollment to San Juan Hills that will cause open enrollment to be limited or eliminated. If there isn't sufficient capacity to accommodate priority enrollment from Ladera and Talega, then it will be necessary to adjust the boundaries to make room for those with priority. Students from San Juan Capistrano (i.e., Marco Forster) are without priority for the most part.

What triggers this situation is the capacity of the school. If San Juan Hills cannot expand to accept the new students from Talega, then those without priority status will be directed to alternative schools either by limiting of open enrollment or a boundary adjustment. If this happened today the alternative schools would be Capo Valley High School or San Clemente High School. Dana Hills High School is currently full. Fortunately, it isn't necessary today, or even next year. But only reason this hasn't already occurred is that access to San Juan Hills from Talega is so difficult at the present time.

This issue arises only now because of a confluence of four events:

    1. San Juan Hills finally nearing capacity,
    2. County approval of the La Pata extension,
    3. Approval of the Rancho Mission Viejo school agreement, and
    4. The developer's application for a zoning change for the apartments.

The RMV agreement projects that future development will generate an increase of 800 students to the high school enrollment. The priority status of these students will depend on how RMV and CUSD arrange to finance the school construction to house these students. If a CFD is used, these students will also have proportional priority wherever the money is spent. San Juan Hills is the closest school to RMV’s Planning Area 2 and Planning Area 3, though distant access to Tesoro may be possible for some (assuming planned roads such as "F" street are built).

When I was elected to the Board, I brought these issues to the attention of my colleagues and district staff almost immediately. Since last January, we have been attempting to engage the developer who, ironically, alerted me to his application before the city for rezoning when he complained of delay in communicating with district staff. Since that time, the district has sought to have a serious discussion with the developer about the project without success. Instead, the developer has informed the school district of his desire to see his application for rezoning through "to the end," before having substantive discussions with CUSD. It is easy to understand why he would take this position, since approval of his application will increase the value of the property in question by a factor of 10!

This has not been a controversial or contentious issue among the trustees as evidenced by our 7-0 vote to approve the resolution on Wednesday night. We all want to protect the public's $150+ million investment in San Juan Hills, and preserve access to the school for everyone who chooses to attend. We also want to avoid disruption to the carefully coordinated  programs at San Juan Hills which serve the unique mix of students living in San Juan Capistrano.

The decision facing the San Juan Capistrano City Council on Jan. 21 is discretionary. This means the developer is not entitled to a positive decision and the City Council does not need a reason to deny the application for rezoning. Nevertheless, very good reasons to deny the rezoning actually exist, as I've just described.

Everyone who enjoys San Juan Hills High School today or who plans to do so future years should contact the San Juan Capistrano City Council to voice an opinion. Whether you live in Ladera Ranch, Talega or San Juan, the capacity of the school and the obvious traffic issues will affect you.

One email will reach the entire council:

cityclerk@sanjuancapistrano.org

View the CUSD resolution here: http://goo.gl/Vo5eS2

Sunshine January 29, 2014 at 12:00 PM
Who would be the developers of this apartment project?
Donna Fleming January 29, 2014 at 01:03 PM
I thought the rezoning was not approved for apartments. Did I miss something? The school needs the land. Mello Roos paid for the bulk of the school, but the kids from Marco still need a school to attend. Of course there is always JSerra, a great school if parents can afford it.
Sunshine January 30, 2014 at 01:09 AM
Sorry, who would HAVE been the developer?
Penny Arévalo January 30, 2014 at 01:46 AM
The landowner is CalPERS. Woodbridge Homes, the one building Valinda and Mirador, was processing the apartment application, but they may not have been the final builder.
Sunshine January 30, 2014 at 03:10 PM
Thanks, Penny! You are always an encyclopedia of knowledge! :)

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