Superintendent on the Patterson Ranch development lawsuit

By Cathy Wang and Shayna Kapadia | Opinions Editor and Editor-in-Chief

On Nov. 12, the Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland heard the Patterson Ranch developer’s lawsuit against the Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) and Superintendent Dr. James Morris and will give their verdict within 90 days. Attorneys representing Fremont Patterson Ranch LLC and Brookfield Bellaire LLC, the firms overseeing the residential development in Fremont, said that the FUSD is not abiding to their 2010 agreement in by voting to leave the new developments unassigned to a school district in the FUSD board meeting on Sept. 9. The Voice invited Morris to give his perspective on this issue to our staff.

The developers suspect the FUSD is attempting to coerce them to pay more than the legally required developer fees; however Morris said that, due to the overcrowding in all of its schools, the district would not be able to honor any school assignment given.

“We don’t have enough space anywhere to put those students in a school,” said Morris. “We haven’t said anything different now than what we have said in 2010 – all the schools in the community are full, so they’ll be assigned as they enroll.”

Morris continued to explain how any school assignment given would be fraudulent as there is no guarantee that seats will be available to students moving into these new developments.

The controversy on the Patterson Ranch development dates back to its inception, said Morris. The development was approved in 2010 and is estimated to create 500 residential units and bring in at least 200 elementary school students. However, Morris stresses the lack of facility space to accommodate this influx. Though the FUSD has been using Measure E bond money to help alleviate this stress by building new classrooms and converting junior high schools into middle schools to make room for new elementary school students, there is not enough money to help fully accommodate all projected students from the 59 developments in progress.

According to Morris, the cost for building new classrooms in Fremont is $17.22 per square foot, more expensive than other structures because of the high standards school buildings must meet. Under the Field Act, schools are built to a higher standard than other buildings so that, in case of emergencies, they would be one of the safest locations.

Money to build these classrooms usually comes from three sources: state bond funds, local bond funds, and developer fees. As of now, there are no state bond funds available for use, and the requested budget for classroom construction is still on the waiting list. Voters had passed Measure E, a $650 million local school bond, two years ago, but a recent facility needs assessment shows that $1.6 billion is needed to address all improvements suggested in a Long Range Facilities Plan. The only source of money the district is receiving for new schools is from these developers, who are required by law to pay $5.70 per square foot of the classroom construction to the district, which is much less than the needed $17.22 per square foot. With these restrictions, Morris is at an impasse. He cannot grant the Patterson Ranch development a school assignment because he wants the only way to ensure the assignment can be honored is to have enough money to build a new school.

Morris explained that a major cause of these conflicts lies within the law. When new developments are considered by the City Council, they do not take into consideration the needs of the school. The council only considers whether developers have paid their fee per square foot.

“The law is very clear,” Morris said. “You can’t consider the school district in your deliberation. It’s not a legal reason to not approve new developments.”

However, Morris is hopeful that this situation will change in the future. With new members on the City Council who are willing to work with the school districts, he hopes that adjustments will be made to the benefit of the school district.