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CCC Interest Group loses appeal


July 16, 2014
Judges in the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division One have issued a ruling in the dispute between the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Interest Group and Valley Center Pauma Unified School District (VCPUSD). Court documents obtained by the Valley Roadrunner show the appeals court upheld an earlier decision dismissing the lawsuit due to lack of evidence. Fourth District judges Terry O' Rourke, Richard Huffman, and Alex McDonald heard the appeal.

The ruling came as a surprise to CCC attorney Kevin Johnson who previously said the school district had admitted in court to violating California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) .

"We lost," said Johnson. "After the district stood up in court and admitted they violated the California Environmental Quality Act it is surprising."

Mary Gorsuch, VCPUSD superintendent said she was pleased that the Court of Appeals upheld the previous decision.

"I haven't talked to the school board yet because I am on vacation," Gorsuch said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. "I would assume that they are as pleased as I am that the court of appeals affirmed the previous decision that indeed the school district acted appropriately and that there was truly no case. I can't speak for them, but I am very pleased"

The original lawsuit claimed that the district did not inform the public by not publishing in the agenda that it might take action to demolish the buildings and argued that the school district ought to be required to consider the historical significance of the remnants of the CCC building otherwise known as Camp Roe before being allowed to develop anything on the site. The lawsuit also requested the court to order the school district to stop further action on the property and to do nothing else until it complied with CEQA requirements by preparing an Environmental Impact Report.

"We purchased the property, we were the only bidder," Gorsuch said. "There was determined to be no historical significance to those buildings otherwise we wouldn't have purchased them because it was always our intent to use that land for students, certainly we never had the intent to restore historical buildings. That's not what school districts do."

Johnson said that CCC is still trying to determine their next move, but how they proceed may be tricky considering the decision was an unpublished one versus published which means it cannot be used as legal authority on other cases.

"We have the option of appealing the matter to the Supreme Court and we will be talking to the client about that," he said. "One of the problems we have is that the appellate court did not publish the decision and normally what that means is there is an extremely limited possibility that the Supreme Court would take the case because they are looking for cases that are in conflict with each other so they can settle the law state-wide."

Gorsuch said at this time she would like to see both groups move forward from the lawsuit.

"We move ahead and certainly hope that Mr. Vick does not decide to appeal further or file any further lawsuits," she said. "We spent so much money defending the district against their legal actions. It's time to move forward."

Jon Vick, a member of the CCC Interest Group previously told the Roadrunner that the group was hopeful the Appeals Court would recognize the alleged violations and that VCPUSD would agree to set aside a small part of that area for a memorial park to recognize the importance of the Civilian Conservations Corps, the use of the site by the military as Camp Roe and the use of the site by the California Department of Forestry.

"Our goal is to get the school to give a small portion of the site for a memorial park allowing us to rebuild replicas on the two foundations that are left, retain the entrance to the site off of Cole Grade Road and to put an educational kiosk that tells the history of the CCC, Camp Roe and CDF in using the site," Vick said.

Gorsuch said now that the group has lost in appeal, it would be a "wonderful gesture" for them to donate the amount spent on the lawsuit to the district and that she couldn't predict if the board would agree to donating a portion of the site for a memorial park.

"That would be a wonderful gesture on his part," she said. "It's really a shame. All of the action of the board was done in public, in open session. He had the opportunity and actually did speak a number of times to the board. His views are known. I don't know what the decision of the board will be on his request."

Johnson said for now the group will continue to review and comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Reported VCPUSD has posted on its website. He claims the EIR is defective but other than to say the school board "decided to aggressively argue against the historic value of the site," failed to expound on why he held that belief.

"That is all self-serving post hoc rationalization," Johnson said. "In other words they have to justify what they did, in their mind, trying to mitigate for the damages that they cost."

Johnson said he believes the biggest factor in the judges' decision remains the fact the previous decision was upheld in spite of the district's admission of violating the law.

"It's highly technical and we disagree with their resuscitation of facts and their application of the law," he said. "At a minimum there should have been an opportunity to amend the pleading because the whole process was conducted in secret by the district and this is an important point, both the trial court and the appellate court have written opinions as if we are held to know exactly what the district did at the time we filed the lawsuit which is a very odd and unusual position to take. That is the way they get to their decision in terms of dismissing it.

"They act as if we didn't put forward all of the facts and therefore, we are to be blamed when the great irony is, the district proceeded in secret then continued, once the lawsuit was filed, to withhold information on the thought that they could then work in court and suggest that somehow, because we didn't know everything, that the lawsuit should be dismissed. It's really unusual and hard to accept result under the circumstances."

Gorsuch said the new ruling is a confirmation of what she and the school board have known all along, that they acted fairly and correctly within the confines of the law when dealing with the property.

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