The Tustin Unfied School District’s plan to temporarily change an elementary school into a continuation high school is being challenged in court.

The city of Tustin filed a lawsuit Tuesday, alleging that the school district failed to adequately study traffic impacts as required by state law.

A city press release quoted Mayor Jerry Amante as saying, “We intend to fight for our taxpayers and our children. That is what this lawsuit is about.”

As Voice of OC reported earlier this week, city officials argued that the school district pulled a bait-and-switch when the school district opted to change Heritage School into a continuation school. Area residents were duped, city officials said, because they pay a special property tax to finance construction of what they thought would be an elementary school.

School district spokesman Mark Eliot said that the school district did conduct traffic and other environmental impacts reviews using an independent contractor and concluded that the change in use at Heritage had no significant impact.

“We complied with CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act],” Eliot said, referring to the state law the city claims was violated. “Most of these [continuation high school] students either walk or take the bus.”

School district officials say they are only reacting to the slowdown in residential construction. Heritage School was built to accommodate elementary students from new residential development at the city’s former Marine Corps air station. Since only some of the neighborhoods have been built, however, only 78 elementary students would attend Heritage, a school district official said.

“I think this whole thing is a smoke screen for the city’s inability to build homes and bring us kids,” Eliot said.

School district officials have insisted that the arrangement is only temporary and that Heritage will eventually open as an elementary school.

The federal government transferred the 10-acre Heritage School site to the school district in 2003 with the understanding that an elementary school would be built there. The city is the redevelopment authority for the former base, and any changes to the use of the land must first be approved by city, according to city correspondence to the school district.

The lawsuit is the latest chapter in an conflict between the city and the school district. The two sued each other last year because of a disagreement over grading permits, and officials on both sides acknowledge that relations have become strained.


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