Illegal Mt. SAC grading on stadium project alleged

Updated at 5:25 p.m. April 6, 2018

Finally obeying a court order, Mt. San Antonio College has halted work on a stadium it hopes will host the 2020 Olympic trials in track and field. But a lawyer in a related case says the school will “never” finish in time.

Grading continued for weeks at Mt. SAC despite preliminary injunction, says United Walnut Taxpayers, which supplied this photo taken March 26, 2018.

United Walnut Taxpayers says video and photos it took March 26 and March 28 show grading at the Hilmer Lodge Stadium project — two weeks after Judge John Torribio ordered a halt to the work.

But United Walnut Taxpayers attorney Craig Sherman wrote the court April 4 to report: “I am informed that as of 4:04 p.m. on April 3, 2018, … grading activities have now ceased at the Stadium Project, as ordered by Judge Torribio in Case No. BS166152. I have not received any official word from counsel for Mt. SAC.”

A spokeswoman for the college east of Los Angeles on March 28 didn’t dispute evidence that a Los Angeles Superior Court preliminary injunction had been ignored.

Jill Dolan, the Mt. SAC spokeswoman, said: “We are currently completing this phase of the mass export project contracted to Southern California Grading. This work is expected to be complete by this Friday (March 30).”

(On March 14, Torribio allowed the dirt “hauling schedule” to continue, but specifically forbade “grading.”)

On March 26, Dolan told Times of San Diego via email that “we have stopped all grading.”

But a court filing April 3 quoted veteran civil and structural engineer Hassan Sassi as saying: “During my March 28, 2018, site visit from the street, I observed contractors conducting grading and hauling activities via the removal of dirt from a natural hill area known as Stadium Hill and digging below what was prior natural grade with construction equipment machine known as an ‘excavator.’ I counted 12 trucks lined up collecting removed graded dirt.”

United Walnut Taxpayers motion for a preliminary injunction to halt Measure RR spending on stadium project. (PDF)

Irvine-based Southern California Grading did not respond to a request for comment.

Dolan said the City of Walnut — which sued Mt. SAC to stop the grading until state environmental laws and city ordinances were met — “has all the documents needed to review grading for the project. We have reached out to the city and requested that they complete its review within 15 days. As of today [March 26], we have not yet heard from the city.”

In any case, Dolan said, most of the grading is completed “and we will re-sequence work to remain on schedule.”

Meanwhile, the separate lawsuit by United Walnut Taxpayers remained on track to deal a potentially lethal blow to the $87 million stadium project.

On April 11, Judge Holly Kendig will hear the group’s request for a preliminary injunction that would stop Measure RR funding for the project.

Measure RR — the 2008 voter-approved bond worth $353 million — doesn’t mention the Hilmer Lodge Stadium demolition and rebuilding project, UWT contends. Thus it’s not a legal use of taxpayer dollars, the group says.

If Kendig — in her courtroom just blocks away from Los Angeles City Hall — OKs the injunction motion, Mt. SAC would have to look for another way to finance the project.

In a “reply brief” filed April 4, attorney Sherman of United Walnut Taxpayers flatly said: “Because of the preliminary injunction in Case No. BS166152 [City of Walnut case], Mt. SAC will never complete the Stadium Project in time for the 2020 Olympic Trials.”

United Walnut Taxpayers arguments for preliminary injunction against Mt. SAC. (PDF)

In a March 8 deposition, Mt. SAC’s vice president of administrative services, Michael Gregoryk, said lease-revenue bonds or the college’s “general unrestricted funds” could be used to pay for the remainder of stadium work.

But San Diego-based UWT attorney Sherman asked Gregoryk: “Has your office, department or any division under you … looked into possible alternative funding sources for completing the stadium project in the event that Measure RR funds are either shut off or extinguished?”

“No,” replied the Mt. SAC official with 30-plus years in education finance.

On March 28, the Mt. SAC board of trustees met with its legal counsel to discuss the UWT and City of Walnut suits. It wasn’t known whether any decisions were publicly announced after the closed session.

Layla Abou-Taleb, president of UWT, said April 3 in another court filing that Mt. SAC continued to be “untrustworthy” and, besides the unlawful grading, was spending Measure RR funds “as quickly as possible … as an attempt to impair UWT’s legal rights and remedies.”

USA Track & Field — which last June awarded the next Olympic Trials to Mt. SAC — showed no signs of concern at the time.

USATF spokeswoman Jill Geer on March 26 reiterated a statement she made three weeks earlier: “We have had ongoing discussions with Mt. SAC for several months about any and all legal matters or concerns pertaining to the 2020 Olympic Trials. Mt. SAC has continued to assure us that their ability to complete the stadium and host a successful Olympic Trials will not be impacted by current litigation.”