The Los Angeles Unified School District's practice of building some new campuses on contaminated former industrial sites has been sharply questioned by a state legislative audit.
The report, a Joint Legislative Audit Committee investigation released Wednesday, found that the district's environmental analysis and cleanup at newly built Jefferson Middle School was seriously deficient - an issue of growing importance with 51 new schools planned, some of them on toxic sites."The LAUSD may be, in some cases, acquiring urban land for new school construction based on political expedience, while disregarding the environmental costs and health risks associated with the cleanup of polluted land," the report stated.
Assemblyman Scott Wildman, D-Glendale, who heads the audit committee, said the district's history of failing to adequately identify and sanitize contaminated property is particularly troubling since L.A. Unified has embarked on a campaign to build 51 more schools within the next decade.
"There is cause for major concern," Wildman said. "Kids need to be safe. If the LAUSD's internal problems of handling environmental problems are not addressed, then they need to be addressed by the state."
Robert Niccum, the district's real estate and asset management branch director, said there is contamination at two of the 10 sites the district has bought or is acquiring. Niccum said that in a congested urban area, choices for new school sites are limited.
"Your options are sites where there are homes, apartments, businesses or factories - there aren't any strawberry fields or orange groves as options," he said. "You're left with the need to build a school. You have to make one of those tough choices."