La Cañada city officials ask to join Sagebrush transfer talks

June 3, 2015
La Canada Valley Sub
By: Sara Cardine

La Cañada city officials agreed Monday to chip in $5,000 for a Sacramento-based consultant to reinvigorate talks between La Cañada and Glendale school officials over a possible Sagebrush transfer — in exchange for a seat at the bargaining table.

Offering to pay one-third of a $15,000 contract, the City Council expressed interest in being formally involved in negotiations currently taking place between La Cañada and Glendale unified school districts.

In June 2013, at the request of citizens group Unite LCF, the council passed a formal resolution supporting a transfer of families living in the western most portions of La Cañada into LCUSD boundaries. Council members have since participated in a subcommittee created to find a reasonable solution, but the city has not had a seat at the negotiations table.

Mayor Pro Tem Jon Curtis, who represents the city on the subcommittee designed to see if an agreement can be reached without litigation, asked the council in a previous meeting to consider ponying up one-third of the cost for consultation from Capitol Advisors Group, a firm that specializes in territory transfers.
“There have been some impasses and frankly, it almost looked like at one point … was Glendale actually stalling or what?” Curtis said, adding that both districts are serious about reaching an agreement.

To wit, GUSD has held 14 public meetings since August 2013 to gauge interest in a transfer and record questions and concerns, Curtis reported. Additional community forums, with representation from both districts, have been held for the same purpose, and 92 newspaper articles and briefs about Sagebrush have been published in the past two years.

“There’s a lot of attention that’s being put toward this initiative,” Curtis told fellow council members.

Capitol Advisors would participate in discussions with both districts and the public, report on the potential political and financial impacts of a transfer and recommend the best options for action, according to material provided by consulting manager Shin Green.

Securing the firm’s services would likely be a last-ditch effort at a non-litigious option, as Unite LCF is poised and ready to move forward with a petition to the county that would ignite a renewed legal battle over the long-contested territory.

Representatives from both districts have been meeting regularly to hash out possible options in the wake of a stand-off that occurred in November, when GUSD officials asked to be compensated $23 million for the loss. LCUSD officials called the offer “untenable.”

It seemed the two school districts were on the heels of reaching some kind of alternate arrangement, but conflicting legal advice on a potential phase-in of students and the transfer of assets brought yet another impasse.

Council members listened Monday as members of the public shared their hopes that Sagebrush families might be brought into the LCUSD fold. Tom Smith, chair of Unite LCF citizens committee, said both school district superintendent invited members to a May 20 meeting.

“It was fairly forthcoming [with] them admitting that up until now they had been given conflicting advice and bad advice, and it was time to really bring in an expert,” Smith said. “I’m here to ask the City Council step up and do what it can to bring that adviser in.”

Nick Karapetian, a Unite LCF member and father of twins who just finished fourth grade at Mountain Avenue Elementary School, said it will be critical, if and when the citizens group petitions the county, to show every effort was made to reach an amicable agreement. He said the city’s contribution toward the consultant helps do that.

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