Trial Postponed, Settlement Talks Continue in Whispering Hills Litigation

The developer of the housing community near San Juan Hills High School wants newly elected Capistrano Unified School Board members to weigh in on the settlement agreement.

A trial against the Capistrano Unified School District that was set to begin next week has been postponed for 30 days so that the housing developer bringing the lawsuit can continue settlement negotiations.

The developer of Whispering Hills, a 155-home community planned near San Juan Hills High School off of La Pata Avenue, sued the district last year when it failed to make the last payment—about $6 million—of the $51 million it owed the builder for land that ultimately was used for the high school.

Irvine-based lawyer Thomas Pistone, who represents the developer, said both parties had agreed to "big" issues but that the developer would prefer the new board of trustees sign off on the settlement. 

"Part of the dispute involves making sure that the change in the board isn't going to result in somebody reneging on the settlement or abandoning the settlement," Pistone said.

Voters recalled two board members and replaced one of three incumbents running in the Nov. 2 election. Tonight is the  first meeting of the newly constituted, seven-member board.

"We want to make sure it's locked down," Pistone said of the settlement.

The original agreement between the district and Whispering Hills allowed the district to make the final payment of $6 million using Mello-Roos taxes raised by the residents living in Whispering Hills. The problem is, only animals live there.

Delayed by a lagging economy, the developer only recently pulled permits with the city of San Juan Capistrano to build a model home and fences.

Another part of the dispute involved the school's property boundary lines. The district is hoping to get additional acreage as part of the settlement so  it can build a football stadium.

While there is a field to practice on, and bleachers on one side, the San Juan Hills football team plays its "home" games at Tesoro High School eight miles away in Las Flores.

The district had purchased the benches that will go in the new stadium, Superintendent Joseph Farley said earlier this week. They have been in storage, waiting for construction to begin.

The district will soon begin to take inventory of the benches and update the stadium plans to comply with building laws that have changed since the district built the majority of the school in 2006-07, he said.

Farley added that he expected a settlement with the developer to be imminent.




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