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In January 2009, the San Diego city council denied Our Lady of Peace, an all-girl parochial school in Normal Heights, a permit to expand their facility. The council sided with the neighbors, who claimed that the school violated its existing permit by having more students and faculty members than the permit allowed. In addition, neighbors didn't want to see the demolition of three historic homes to make room for a new two-story parking structure and library.

In the following months, school administrators and their attorney Paul Robinson sued the city for violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

On April 19, as part of a potential settlement agreement, councilmembers were asked whether they wanted to waive the "permanent rules of council" and reconsider the project.

Early into the hearing, Robinson indicated that his client would likely move forward with litigation if council did not agree to reconsider the expansion project.

Councilmembers took issue with the lack of progress made between school administrators and nearby residents.

"Just to be clear, the project has not changed, there has been no further discussion between the neighbors and the applicant. In fact, there has been radio silence, not even a newsletter. We have to have something new," said councilmember Todd Gloria, the representative for district three.

Some councilmembers disagreed with waiving the council rules to avoid a lawsuit.

"To approve this suspension of rules sets an amazingly dangerous precedent," said councilmember Sherri Lightner.

Marti Emerald agreed: "We shouldn't sit here and waive permanent rules of council because somebody wants to bully us in court. Bring it on."

In the end, the council remained split, failing to reach the six votes necessary to reconsider the project.

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historymatters April 19, 2011 @ 2:38 p.m.

great story! Thank you for writing about this. I wanted to hear what happened. Yes this would be terrible precedent. So in the end how did each council member vote?


Dorian Hargrove April 19, 2011 @ 4:01 p.m.

Hello historymatters. Councilmembers Faulconer, DeMaio, Zapf, and Tony Young voted in favor of reconsidering the project. They said they did so in order to avoid future legal costs.


LovesHillcrest April 20, 2011 @ 6:04 a.m.

re: Faulconer, DeMaio, Zapf and Young supporting the church school because of OLP’s threat of a lawsuit...Councilwoman Marti Emerald said, ”Bring it on!”

Thank you, Todd Gloria, Sheri Lightner, David Alvarez and Marti Emerald for having the cajones to do the right thing and not waive your council rules to allow OLP a “do-over” on their previous hearing results.


LuluFishbein April 20, 2011 @ 6:29 p.m.

Thanks for including this example of how people can still join together and achieve something against institutions that are more financed and powerful. This school's neighbors were amazing -- they never allowed the school to wear them down.

Just a little quibble – the school is in North Park, not Normal Heights. The boundary is the Adams Ave bridge over the 805.


JudiO April 20, 2011 @ 10:48 p.m.

The Behi community and the North Park Planning Committee have been wonderful in forging great relationships despite the bullying of OLP. North Park is becoming a stronger and stronger community every day and that has been bolstered by OLPs tactics.

We really want to thank councilmembers Gloria, Lightner, Alvarez, and Emerald--these folks consistently support the community against long odds. I think that most of these councilmembers are part of the Catholic Community and will face blow-back of pressure--that takes courage that we don't often see in politics. But the fabulous four understand constitutional separations of church and state and they listen to the community and research the issues. None of these councilmembers are running for mayor. Two of the republican members who voted in effect to support OLP have either announced or will announce their candidacy.

Also, the lame excuse by Zapt, DeMaio, Falconer, and Young of saving the city from future litigation costs is "felony stupid". There will be litigation whether it is advanced by OLP or the Behi/Preservation Community and this will render litigation cost neutral. I urge the City Council to stick to it's convictions that advance community good and not the those of special, including political, interests.


velo333 April 21, 2011 @ 3:05 p.m.

Thank you Todd Gloria for supporting your constituency. Paul Robinson is a big bully and you stood up to him. Faulconer, Demaio, Zapf, and Young put their little tails between their legs and assumed the position. None of these cowards deserves to be Mayor of San Diego.

Now if we can just get SDPD Traffic Enforcement to issue some tickets to the OLP scofflaws who blow through stop signs, speed, run over pets without stopping, and intimidate and bully neighborhood residents! These mutts think our streets are their own private freeway off ramps!


nostalgic April 22, 2011 @ 5:56 p.m.

Where DID the OLP laywer get that plaid shirt? Not to mention the tie. Please, next time do a video pre-run before that image appears on City Council video. What will David Copley think?


laplayaheritage April 22, 2011 @ 11:44 p.m.

The neighbors should put forth alternative design options for OLP's project of a new library founded on a two-level underground parking structure. There are so many solutions that are not being discussed. OLP could be shown the great historically sensitive alternatives so they know all of us can have everything we want without conflict.

The only people getting rich with OLP legal attitude is their hired gun lawyer, who tells them they have a chance. OLP should fire their overpriced lawyer and work with neighbors to achieve Peace in this Easter season by a simple redesign.


SurfPuppy619 April 24, 2011 @ 6:32 p.m.

The only people getting rich with OLP legal attitude is their hired gun lawyer, who tells them they have a chance. OLP should fire their overpriced lawyer and work with neighbors to achieve Peace in this Easter season by a simple redesign.

================== If their attorney is urging them into a long costly litigation battle, and telling htem they have a chance (they don't) he should have been fired yesterday.

Muni's have BROAD discretion in local planning, and expanding a school that si already over limit and impacted is a loser case 10 times out of 10.

They should be working with the neighbors to see if there is ANY common ground, and then go from there.


laplayaheritage April 23, 2011 @ 12:38 a.m.

The City Council stood up to the intimidation of the Catholic Church playing the religion card on a local San Diego Historic and Land Use issue.

When will the City Council have to guts and Leadership to challenge the unwanted Cabrillo Bypass bridge and the tax-payer subsidized paid parking structure for the primary benefit of the Balboa Park museums, the fabulous Prado Restaurant, the internationally-acclaimed, Tony® Award-winning Old Globe Theatre, and Valet parking for the rich?

Qualcomm is a great local cutting edge technology company. Someone should tell Qualcomm that fighting with the local Historical Community on a San Diego Historical and Land Use issue is a losing battle that will result in a multi-year CEQA litigation on both sides. This other unnecessary Land Use legal conflict should also be resolved between our City Council leaders, and Mayor Sanders in time for the 2015 Balboa Park Centennial Celebration.

This Bypass bridge and paid parking structure is turning to be a boondoggle for Mayor Sanders’ developer, construction, and land use consulting friends who invented the new bypass bridge and paid parking option in our beautiful Balboa Park, primarily for the rich. Therefore time and energy is being spent on a Master Plan and Precise Plan Amendment CEQA process that will not solve Balboa Park’s parking and circulation problems, or unify the community.


If the public pays for a new parking structure, the new public building should serve both downtown San Diego and Balboa Park. A new ambitious Decking Project consisting of a Multi-Level Parking structure and Circulation Plan could be part of the CCDC idea to put Freeway Lids on Interstate 5 at Cortez Hill and the East Village for new park land.

Thus creating parking for a walkable community like the Park 101's Freeway Lid for a Walkable downtown Los Angeles. Parking structures within existing public transit corridors that could be used 24/7 and 365 days a year, located on the edge of downtown would fit SANDAG’s transportation goals. Therefore instead of a $35 million dollar project paid with new taxes, San Diego could use CCDC Redevelopment Tax Increment funds, SANDAG regional dollars, and free grants from Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration for a new regional public asset that would serve multi functions.


SurfPuppy619 April 24, 2011 @ 6:29 p.m.

Early into the hearing, Robinson indicated that his client would likely move forward with litigation if council did not agree to reconsider the expansion project.

====================== The school will be fighting an uphill, and losing, battle in court. Especially if the school is already over their permited number of students.

I personally don't see the big problem with tearing down 3 old homes and making a parking structure, but I have been by there when school gets out and it is a nightmare right now.


Visduh April 24, 2011 @ 7:13 p.m.

A few years ago, this would not have been an issue, because parochial and private schools were not exactly packing them in. I'm not familiar with the OLP campus, but I do remember that of St Augustine, the all-boy Catholic school not far away. Its campus was most unimpressive, even rather ramshackle in appearance. But now the Catholic high schools appear to be in a growth mode, and for a change, appear to have money for buildings. The new Cathedral Catholic High in the Del Mar Heights area that replaced the old USD High has arguably the fanciest campus of any high school in the county.

OLP is jumping on the band wagon. One might wonder why an old-line Catholic girls high school is so interested in growing on that campus, especially if it gets substantial opposition from its neighbors. Maybe it needs to move elsewhere or just open a satellite campus in some other part of the city. There was a time when nobody profited from Catholic education. The nuns, brothers, and priests worked at it because it was their religious vocation. The lay people who were similarly employed earned meager salaries. But now OLP can engage an expensive hired gun attorney who tries to intimidate the city council. We should not be surprised: plenty of special interests have bullied that council over the years, usually not so openly, but very effectively. If this push by OLP mystifies you as it puzzles me, well, just follow the money. There is money in non-public schools like never before, and this involves bucks, plain and simple.


OLPSupporter Oct. 25, 2012 @ 9:27 a.m.

Ha Ha. OLP wins. Your smack talk of bullying didn't sway the courts. You lost, the homes are coming down, OLP is getting their new beautiful building. The school has been there longer than all of you. Its presence on Oregon Street precedes all of you. It is allowed to expand on its land just like all of you. And by the way, the students do not run over your pets - what a bunch of whining B.S. propaganda. The school wins, the disgruntled neighbors lose, and the City of San Diego pays $1.1 million in damages because of the City Council's egregious actions. If you don't like it, then take your pets (while they're still alive) and MOVE!


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