Members of Irvine's Republican City Council majority Tuesday night rejected a proposal by Democratic Councilman Larry Agran to place a measure on the June ballot asking residents to choose between two locations for the city’s next high school.
Instead, the council majority voted 3-2 for a motion by Councilwoman Christina Shea to leave the question of whether such a measure goes to the ballot — which would be only advisory and therefore nonbinding — up to the Irvine Unified School District.
Agran has for months been pushing the issue, arguing that the current site is dangerous because it is near fenced-off, toxic waste sites and a jail that is entitled to expand and house thousands of inmates. He has proposed an alternative site within the Great Park.
“Site A is the worst possible site in the city for all the reasons that have been stated before,” Agran said. “If everybody thinks site A is so wonderful and it is without question the best site, then let the people ratify that through a vote.”
His Republican colleagues called Agran’s ballot measure a political scare tactic.
“I would strongly suggest that we stop using our children as political footballs in Irvine,” said Republican Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway. “Every single expert that has looked at this site has said it is suitable for a high school.”
School district leaders also said that the current site is just fine and that Agran should stick to city business and let the school district manage issues under its jurisdiction.
“If any of you are interested in making decisions about the school, then do what I did and run for the school board,” said former Irvine Unified board member Carolyn Mclnerny. “From all accounts, it appears you have your hands full with city problems.”
Mclnerny also accused Agran of politicizing the school location selection process. She said Agran wants to sell the Great Park land at an “inflated price” to monetize the park and use the advisory measure as a fundraising machine for slate mailers that support his candidates.
In the past, slate mailers supporting ballot measures proposed by Agran have included promotions of the Democratic council bloc and have been financed heavily by Great Park consultants that received multimillion-dollar no-bid contracts.
Agran argued that there could be liability issues stemming from the current site. He named examples of other schools that he said are facing expensive and complicated lawsuits because of an unusually high number of cancer cases that could be attributed to surrounding environmental contamination.
“Yes, IUSD has the authority, the final say, to site a high school, but we’re exposed to the liability,” Agran said.
In a separate vote, the council unanimously decided to make certain that documents related to environmental, jail and traffic issues around the two school sites be available online, with the exception of attorney-client privileged communications.
The move was a counter to Agran’s proposal that certain documents be compiled in a “user-friendly” format for the public to digest. Lalloway said such a compilation would serve Agran’s political agenda, and the counter proposal left out the organization Agran had sought.
Nonetheless, Agran said he was sure an intrepid resident would organize the documents for the public.