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The Academy of Our Lady of Peace in Normal Heights [See update at bottom of item] will finally be allowed to proceed with its controversial expansion plans, and pick up $500,000 of taxpayers’ money for its trouble, according to a report of a closed session held by the San Diego city council February 12.

As we were the first to report, the council voted in December of last year to appeal a $1.1 million verdict that had been awarded against the city:

According to a closed session report from the meeting of December 4, the council voted 9-0 on a motion by First District councilwoman Sherri Lightner, seconded by the Ninth District's Marti Emerald, to authorize the City Attorney to pursue the city's battle against the verdict, which held that the city violated the Catholic all-girl high school's religious rights when it refused to grant permits for expansion.

The school on Oregon Street was seeking to tear down historic structures to make way for new classrooms, a media center, and a parking garage, but ran into fierce opposition from neighbors and community activists.

After the city blocked the expansion, the school filed suit in federal court under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. When settlement efforts failed, the case went to trial, and a jury sided with the school.

"The Academy of Our Lady of Peace is elated with the verdict, and now looks forward to putting this case in the past and continuing to provide the highest quality education to the young women of San Diego," the academy's attorney Daniel Dalton said in a news release posted on Christian Newswire after the decision.

According to the release, the San Diego case was only the third time the religious land use law had been before a jury.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith appears to be up against a formidable and potentially costly legal foe in the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan-based Dalton, a specialist in religious land use law who has prevailed in dozens of cases on behalf of churches and other religious institutions around the country, according to his website.

The council's December resolve to fight the academy didn't last long.

According to last week's closed session report, the council voted 6 to 2, with Councilmembers Todd Gloria and Sherri Lightner voting “No” and the fourth district seat vacant, to "authorize the entry of the consent decree by the Court in full and for final settlement of the case."

The Consent Decree will order the City to issue a Permit for the Modernization Project and pay a monetary settlement to OLP in the amount of $500,000.

The Permit will allow OLP to construct a two-story classroom building and a two-story parking structure; will allow OLP to demolish a single family dwelling owned by OLP on Uvada Street without any further discretionary review by the City; will allow the removal of two other houses, one on Collier Street and one on Copley Street, owned by OLP; and will allow, through a conditional use permit, student enrollment of 750 students on campus.

Upon notice by OLP, the City will remove the Collier single family dwellings and the Copley single family dwellings from the OLP property. The removal must occur by May 1, 2014, unless a new date is agreed to by OLP, the City, and approved by the Court. The City will be responsible for all aspects of the removal of the two homes. OLP will retain no legal interest in, or responsibility for, the Copley and Collier single family homes following their removal from OLP’s property.

The City will limit the cost to OLP for processing further permits needed for the Modernization Project to no more than One Hundred Thousand Dollars.

All further permits needed for OLP’s Modernization Project will be processed through the City’s Express Plan Check Process at no extra cost to OLP.

Other than payment of the Settlement Funds, each party will bear their own costs and fees associated with the Action.

As reported here by Dorian Hargrove in April 2011, the school's lobbyist Paul Robinson - who also works for U-T San Diego owner and publisher Douglas Manchester - warned the council that the academy would proceed with its lawsuit if the city failed to settle, bringing a stinging retort from councilwoman Marti Emerald:

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

Emerald made the motion to approve last week's settlement, the record shows.

UPDATE: Our commenters below have disputed the school's self-designated locale of Normal Heights. A city map shows it to be in North Park, and the Reader's official neighborhood online map is being changed accordingly.

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Visduh Feb. 17, 2013 @ 9:13 a.m.

I'm told that the Act referenced makes it very difficult for local control over land use by religious institutions. Let's not forget that private and parochial education is big business today, and that people are willing to open their pocketbooks like never before to avoid public schools. The local Catholic diocese has recently built two palatial high schools (Cathedral and Mater Dei) that replaced a pair of ramshackle operations, something that would not have been done without some assurance that they would pay their way. OLP has been a bad neighbor in North Park for many years, and isn't making itself any more popular with this construction. The non-religious schools, such as Bishops and La Jolla Country Day, are enjoying great popularity, but they lack the ability to use the Act to bully the local authorities. Expect more of the parochial schools to demand approval of their expansion plans.


Burwell Feb. 17, 2013 @ 12:07 p.m.

At this point the city should use its power of eminent domain to seize the school site, save the historic buildings, and bulldoze the rest. Turn the site into a miniature Balboa Park. OLP is only for the wealthy. That land should be a public park.


Gregory May Feb. 17, 2013 @ 8:32 p.m.

Good education for women should include a respect & appreciation for historic structures.


Hardcover Feb. 17, 2013 @ 8:56 p.m.

The City should deduct from the 500k the tuition paid by the 100 extra students that OLP was accepting in violation of its CUP. Actually, they never should have settled with these scofflaws.


Visduh Feb. 17, 2013 @ 9:05 p.m.

The city was at a big disadvantage, and the fact that OLP had been in violation of its conditional use permit didn't count in the final analysis. It should have, but that Act makes it very hard for a city to control an operation like that school. "Scofflaws" is a pretty hard term to use about a Catholic girls school. But then it should be noted that a school like that used to be a low-key place, staffed by nuns, and charging a modest tuition. Today the nuns are generally few and far between, and the tuition isn't modest. OLP is part of the private/parochial educational complex, and money is the biggest factor, not faith.


Hardcover Feb. 17, 2013 @ 9:43 p.m.

I'll stick with "scofflaws", thank you. You can't be 100 students over the allowed number for years and not know it. They thought they were somehow "special".


Visduh Feb. 17, 2013 @ 9:52 p.m.

I wasn't disagreeing with your use of the term. I was just noting that many would think it over-the-top.


smuggg Feb. 17, 2013 @ 10:31 p.m.

Yeah, Martti bring it on!! Your a joke


Bob_Hudson Feb. 18, 2013 @ 6:27 a.m.

Sad - there is so much ignorance and bigotry in the comments against this school. What they are doing is legal according to the always progressive city council, except for Gloria and Lightner who stuck by their convictions. Our always shining Emerald city council member apparently forgot about throwing down the gauntlet in 2011, "We shouldn't sit here and waive permanent rules of council because somebody wants to bully us in court. Bring it on."


ChristyS Feb. 18, 2013 @ 8:51 a.m.

Matt, OLP is in North Park not Normal Heights.

Bob, I'm not sure what "ignorance and bigotry" you are referring to -- everything the other commenters said is accurate. While there are a handful of girls at the school who receive financial aid due to need, the vast majority are from well-to-do homes (just witness the parade of upscale cars every day to and from the school). As a neighbor, and I know this is true of most of the neighborhood, I fully support the school's mission and quality education. But this travesty of law is not only bad for the neighborhood, it's a misuse of RLUPA. The settlement shows how inept our City Attorney's office is, for which I was a firsthand witness when called down to meet with them only to find -- just a few weeks before trial -- that they were completely unprepared, befuddled and, frankly, uninspired. At the last minute the witness list was inexplicably reduced to 2 neighbors, so of course this jury did not hear the full story. San Diego taxpayers should be outraged as this extraordinarily poor use of our money.


Visduh Feb. 18, 2013 @ 7:41 p.m.

Well stated. For my part, I attempt to be accurate.


SurfPuppy619 Feb. 18, 2013 @ 10:54 a.m.

Matt, OLP is in North Park not Normal Heights.

From their own website;

The Academy of Our Lady of Peace is an all‑girls, Catholic private secondary school. Sponsored and administered by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, OLP is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA). .....Located in the Normal Heights area of San Diego, the Academy serves students who reside throughout San Diego County and in Baja California, Mexico.



ChristyS Feb. 18, 2013 @ 12:05 p.m.

Yes, the map shows that it is not in Normal Heights -- the school is west of the 805, which is North Park.

It doesn't matter what OLP's website says -- it's wrong.


Reader Staff Feb. 18, 2013 @ 1:28 p.m.

The Reader has traditionally referred to this area — the area surrounding 30th & Adams — as Normal Heights. Upon careful review of the the City's zoning maps, and several other sources, it appears we've been in error.

Please bear with us as we institute the change.


SurfPuppy619 Feb. 18, 2013 @ 2:03 p.m.

Yes, the CURRENT SD City map shows North Park, but Christy, don't you admit that the CURRENT SD City was REVISED in 1988 (??) and the BOUNDRIES changed????

Just to be accurate, as it stands today it is NP, but that may not have been the case originally or historically, and may be a recent change.

But as it stands today Christy is correct.


ChristyS Feb. 18, 2013 @ 7:38 p.m.

Yes, our deeds say University Heights but the City decides what the neighborhood boundaries are and then PD, Fire, media, etc., use those maps. So while including that area as part of North Park might not be historically correct, we don't get to decide what to call our own neighborhoods -- the City does. There is a sign on the Adams Avenue bridge as you cross over the 805 that says welcome to North Park too -- it's really not as ambiguous as people make it out to be. I mean, if you want to call it UH or NH or whatever, be my guest! We like to call it BeHi (Between the Heights).


Burwell Feb. 18, 2013 @ 2:35 p.m.

OLP is located in University Heights. Boundary St is the dividing line between Normal Heights and University Heights

University Heights boundaries are Highway 163 (395) on the West, Boundary Street on the East, and University Avenue on the South. North Park ends at University Avenue and never crosses it. I have original maps to prove it. It may be that developers have reasons to rebrand University Heights into North Park, but legally OLP is in University Heights regardless of what the developers want the City to call the area. The area should retain its historic and correct name.


SurfPuppy619 Feb. 18, 2013 @ 5:44 p.m.

I have original maps to prove it. It may be that developers have reasons to rebrand University Heights into North Park, but legally OLP is in University Heights regardless of what the developers want the City to call the area. The area should retain its historic and correct name

That is exactly what I was referring to the ORIGINAL maps and boundaries, not the ones redrafted in 1988 OR whenever they did it. Some one said C Arnholt Smith redid the lines when he bulldozed single family homes in NP and out up apartments.


ChristyS Feb. 18, 2013 @ 7:39 p.m.

Ha -- it's not developers. This area was developed in the 1920s! It's the city who decided to place it into the Greater North Park planning zone. Nothing sinister about it. :)


SurfPuppy619 Feb. 18, 2013 @ 5:45 p.m.

BTW Burwell, where did you get the old maps???? How can I get copies????


Visduh Feb. 18, 2013 @ 8:59 p.m.

Does this matter of which neighborhood is the right one make any difference? The real matter is the wisdom and fairness of letting this school do just about anything it wants to do with its expanding campus. Too bad, but the city is at a severe disadvantage in trying to control this sort of development. That's the issue, not whether OLP is in North Park, Normal Heights, or for that matter, Lower Slobbovia.


Sjtorres Feb. 18, 2013 @ 5:52 p.m.

Not only are these girls getting a better education than they would in the public schools, but they are saving SD taxpayers millions of dollars over the years.


Visduh Feb. 18, 2013 @ 9:10 p.m.

Under current state laws, the funding provided to a public school is provided by the state on an equitable basis. So, when those OLP students are there and not in a public school classroom, there is no taxpayer-provided funding. But since this system is on a statewide basis, the "average daily attendance" money is not provided by SD taxpayers, but by California taxpayers. So, they are saving statewide taxpayers millions, or we might say "they are saving taxpayers millions of dollars over the years."

As to whether the education is better than public schools, that's a matter of opinion. Some of the county's public schools would rank very high in any sort of comparison, and attract those who could afford a parochial school (like OLP). Those patents choose to go with the public schools because they think they offer a superior education.


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