The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education has approved the acquisition of two homes on Virginia Avenue through eminent domain for the expansion and reconstruction of the Edison Language Academy.

The board voted 6-1 Thursday, June 25th to acquire the residence owned by Shinobu Maruyama at 2508 Virginia Ave., and the home owned by the Mary Hernandez Revocable Trust at 2512 Virginia Ave. for the proposed school expansion.

The school district will purchase the properties through the process that allows the government to acquire private property for public use, compensating the property owners at the fair market value of the homes, along with relocation expenses and attorney fees. The district had attempted to acquire the homes through negotiation but no agreements had been reached with the property owners.

The properties will be acquired as part of the school expansion project to develop one- and two-story buildings in the northwestern section of the campus. The two-story buildings will be used for classroom space, while the single-story buildings will include administration services, a cafeteria, a preschool and a physical education facility.

District staff said the expansion is necessary because the current school campus of 4.9 acres is well below the state Department of Education’s size standard of 7.8 acres. The Edison campus would be expanded to 5.5 acres through the property purchase.

The property owners told the board members at the June 25th meeting that they have been living in their homes for many years and don’t want to have to move.

“I understand that the school is not up to speed in regards to the size of the property but we’ve been here since 1952,” said Lawrence Maruyama, the son of the property owner who attended Edison as a child.

Jeffrey Horowitz, the attorney representing property owner Mary Hernandez, said they didn’t believe the acquisition was necessary and proposed alternatives to purchasing the home.

“My client would like to remain in the home she’s lived in for 43 years,” the attorney said of Hernandez, who was originally a tenant and purchased the home from her landlord in 1999. “She loves that property and worked hard on that property.”

Oscar de la Torre, the only school board member to vote against the acquisition, said he found it difficult to displace two working class families.

“I’m a strong supporter of protecting the economic and ethnic diversity that makes Santa Monica a vibrant community,” de la Torre said in explaining his vote.

The school board member said he was also concerned that the monetary amount for the homes was determined prior to the recession, but he is hopeful that with the compensation, the property owners could purchase a home elsewhere in Santa Monica.

District staff had considered alternatives such as the acquisition of an adjacent multi-family residential building, but noted that the proposal would be more expensive and displace a greater number of residents. The purchase of the two Virginia Avenue homes was found to cause the least private injury while still achieving the greatest public good, staff said.

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