San Diego (May 23, 2012) – The Honorable Cathy Ann Bencivengo, United States District Court Judge for the Southern District of California, has set a trial date of October 1, 2012 in the case of Academy of Our Lady of Peace v. City of San Diego, a precedent-setting religious land use and zoning case. In April 2012, Judge Bencivengo denied the City of San Diego’s motion to dismiss the case and ordered that all City Council members, and their staff, submit to a deposition to explain their behavior. The next steps in the proceedings will include the depositions of City Council member Todd Gloria and his staff member, Stephen Hill, in early June 2012.
At issue in the case is the City’s refusal to approve the all-girls Catholic high school’s plan to modernize its campus and facilities, a step necessary to enable the continuation of a tradition inaugurated in 1882, of superior education for the region’s future female leaders. With no new school facilities built since 1965 and with all adaptive reuse possibilities for existing structures exhausted, the proposed modernization plan is critical to the school’s future and to the education of the region’s young women.
The proposed modernization plan includes the construction of one new school building and a parking structure on land the school already owns. These facilities would provide students with state-of-the-art science laboratories, an enhanced library and media center and additional classroom space, as well as off-street parking.
The Academy of Our Lady of Peace is located in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood. It is the city’s oldest high school, having graduated more than 5,000 alumnae in the course of its history. The private school is administered by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.
Brief History and Overview
The school first proposed the plan to the City in May 2007. For five years since then, the Academy of Our Lady of Peace has sought approval to evolve as an educational institution to remain competitive with other private high schools and public schools in the area. Approval was attained from the City of San Diego Developmental Services Department and affirmed by the Planning Commission in 2008, but later rescinded by City Council.
“With political interests seemingly taking precedence over the well being of San Diego’s young women and jeopardizing the future of this historic institution, the school had no choice but to take the matter to court,” said the school’s attorney, Daniel Dalton of Dalton & Tomich plc. “The proposed modernization plan is the only way the Academy of Our Lady of Peace can continue upholding its mission to meet the educational needs of its students, the future leaders of the San Diego community. The Academy asks only that it be treated fairly under the law.”
The Academy of Our Lady of Peace filed a federal lawsuit against the City of San Diego in May 2009. The suit alleges violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, better known as RLUIPA, as well as violations of federal and state constitutional rights. The October trial may also explore possible abuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as a stall tactic.
Dalton has won precedent-setting land use cases on behalf of catholic churches and other religious institutions across the country against municipalities found to be in violation of RLUIPA. One of the largest settlements included a $550,000 cash award granted to Church of the Open Door in a case against the City of Bellmead, Texas, the largest such award in the state’s history.
The Academy has created an informational website about the modernization effort at https://www.stayeducatedsandiego.org. It includes a timeline of events and an opportunity for alumnae, parents and community supporters to share their thoughts.
About Academy of Our Lady of Peace
The Academy of Our Lady of Peace curriculum develops young leaders guided by principles including dedication to “excellence tempered by gentleness, peace and joy,” focus on service to the “dear neighbor,” and commitment to furthering social justice. More than 5,000 young women have graduated under these principles since the school’s founding. Collectively, they have contributed more than 24,000 hours of community services to the San Diego community. For more information on the Academy, visit https://www.aolp.org.
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In my role as Administrative Bishop for the Church of God, quite often we are faced with issues that involve local governments and municipalities. Many of these issues that arise in dealing with entities are land use related. I have found Dalton & Tomich’s experience and expertise in this area to be a valuable resource and asset in every situation.
Never one time during a year-long litigation process did Dalton & Tomich demonstrate anything other than Christ-like professionalism. They managed the legal details, while we continued to do church. How they managed themselves, managed our case, and represented our church set the table for me and our church to be where we are today.
Dalton & Tomich’s expertise and experience helped us through a very difficult legal journey, ultimately achieving a favorable outcome. Their personal interest in helping us went “above and beyond” just the call of duty.