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L.A. settles lawsuit claiming contamination of high school site

Downtown Los Angeles developer Richard Meruelo on the top floor of the old Union Bank building at Eighth and Hill Streets in 2006. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to settle a lawsuit over allegations that soil underneath a Glassell Park high school campus was contaminated by chemicals that originated at a nearby city-owned property.

On a 10-0 vote, the council agreed to pay $2.5 million to the Los Angeles Unified School District and its law firm, Musick Peeler & Garritt, city officials said. The money will be paid from the city’s Sewer Operations and Maintenance Fund.

L.A. Unified filed a lawsuit earlier this year demanding $4 million to pay for cleanup at the newly built, $239 million Sonia M. Sotomayor Learning Academies, which is along San Fernando Road northeast of downtown.

In their lawsuit, district officials said industrial solvents and other hazardous substances had been found in soil at one end of the campus -– and fingered land owned by the Bureau of Sanitation as the culprit.

Councilman Ed Reyes, whose district includes the 2,295-seat high school, missed the vote because he had another engagement, a spokeswoman said. But in a statement, he said he supported the payment because “remediated land is important for the health of our kids.”

Wednesday’s vote provided yet another chapter in the complex history of the campus, which sits near the Los Angeles River. School officials were negotiating to buy the property in 2005 when real estate development company Meruelo Maddux Properties swooped in and purchased it.

The district responded by filing a lawsuit. But the school board ultimately agreed to pay Meruelo Maddux $50 million for the site in 2008 –- $18 million more than the company had spent just three years earlier.

During the peak of the real estate boom, Richard Mereulo -– the head of Meruelo Maddux -- was known as the largest landowner in downtown Los Angeles, a businessman who had spent nearly $200,000 to help Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa win election in 2005.

The company slipped into bankruptcy in 2009 and Meruelo is no longer involved in it.

RELATED:

Meruelo wants to take L.A. in new direction

School board wins right to buy Glassell Park land

L.A. Unified sues over contamination of new campus

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Downtown Los Angeles developer Richard Meruelo on the top floor of the old Union Bank building at 8th and Hill streets in 2006.

Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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