School Board General Services
Because the Firm acts as general counsel to a substantial number of school districts, the Firm's attorneys are well-versed in the various legal issues that arise in conjunction with the conduct of public meetings, public hearings, closed sessions, Board member elections, contract issues, contract awards, bidding, and general operational matters. Attorneys frequently attend Board meetings and meetings of Citizen Bond Oversight Committees and are often called upon to advise clients quickly on matters concerning the Brown Act, conflicts of interest, and interpretations of and to provide advise concerning various sections of State Codes including the Education Code, Government Code, Public Resources Code, Contract Code, etc. In addition, we routinely advise school districts on compliance with Public Records Act requests, and assist school districts in developing policies to address such compliance.
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The Firm's practice extends to the full range of legal services pertaining to school facilities construction. The Firm has assisted numerous school districts with regard to compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA") and other governmental regulations. We have also reviewed and drafted "Requests for Proposals" for architect and construction management services as well as comprehensive agreements for those services and inspectors of record. We have significant expertise in regard to contract documents for the construction of school facilities as well as other public facilities, including resolution of bidding issues. Also, we have negotiated with both contractors and other service providers including local agencies that provide water, sewer and other services. We have been successful in resolving disputes as part of the construction process and have resolved issues and expedited completion of stalled projects while preserving rights of the school district as to contractors and their surety.
In working on construction projects, we have reviewed and resolved bid disputes, stop notice claims, breach of contract actions, delay claims, claims for "extra work" and negotiation of "deducts." In addition to the foregoing, the Firm's attorneys possess expertise in construction litigation matters including construction defect and delay cases on behalf of our school district and other public agency clients. The Firm favors participation in alternative dispute resolution programs, utilizing, when appropriate, mediation or arbitration to reduce litigation costs and resolve disputes expeditiously.
The Firm has advised various public agencies, including school districts and joint powers agencies, with regard to contracting for the provision of public services. The Firm's involvement has included assistance with bid procedures as well as the drafting and review of contracts for such services. The types of service contracts that our Firm has been involved in includes the provision of transportation, security, construction, construction management, architectural, engineering, and investment services.
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School Fees and Developer Mitigation
Adoption, accounting, use and reimbursement issues of Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 School Fees is a particular area of expertise of our Firm. Negotiation and documentation of Mitigation Agreements is an area of school law where we feel our Firm has more experience and expertise than other firms.
The mitigation of school facility impacts by new development is an important component of the Firm's school facilities practice. Members of the Firm frequently lecture on this topic at various conferences statewide. Our Firm successfully represented the school districts in the case entitled William S. Hart Union High School District v. Regional Planning Commission of Los Angeles (1991) 277 Cal. Rptr. 645. This pivotal case held that a city or county can deny a development application involving a legislative act, based on the inadequacy of school facilities. Since this important decision, our Firm has continued to be in the forefront of school facility mitigation issues throughout the State of California, including interpreting and implementing SB-50 and the $9.2 billion bond bill signed into law by the Governor in 1998.
Our Firm has assisted school districts in Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Stanislaus, and Ventura Counties with the mitigation of impacts from new development and has consistently monitored and participated in deliberations concerning legislation which affects school facilities mitigation. Funding of these obligations by means of community facilities districts and school facility improvement districts is a particular area of expertise of the Firm.
Additionally, we routinely advise our school district clients regarding: (1) use of school facilities pursuant to the Civic Center Act; (2) the joint use of school facilities with cities, parks and recreation districts; (3) the collection and use of statutory school fees; and (4) asset management, including the sale of surplus property and joint ventures.
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Real Property Matters/Related Litigation
The legal aspects of planning, financing and constructing or modifying school facilities is a special area of expertise of the Firm. The Firm also has substantial experience working with the Office of Public School Construction ("OPSC") and the State Allocation Board ("SAB") with regard to submitting and obtaining approval of applications for funding and reimbursement for land acquisition and related real property matters, as well as funding and reimbursement of construction costs, on behalf of school districts.
The Firm has in-depth experience among its attorneys in regard to negotiated land acquisitions or sales and condemnation matters, including compliance with all applicable local and state laws and the policies and funding requirements of the OPSC and the SAB. This has been particularly true as obtaining "Financial Hardship" status and now "Bridge Financing" for such "Unfunded List" approvals of the SAB. We have assisted numerous school districts with initial selection of school sites and construction of school facilities. This includes negotiation with landowners, preparation of purchase/sale agreements, obtaining approvals of the Department of Toxic Substances Control and the California Department of Education, complying with CEQA and assistance in school construction, and litigation when necessary.
The Firm also has been involved in numerous condemnation proceedings, which have necessitated interfacing with appraisers and other experts, the drafting of all notices to property owners, as well as the conducting of public hearings for condemnation and preparation of resolutions, and, if necessary, initiating eminent domain proceedings. Should a need for litigation arise, the Firm's attorneys possess litigation experience in both the trial and appellate courts. We have been successful in negotiating the purchase of many unimproved and partially improved school sites and have represented school districts in various property exchanges.
The Firm has been involved in many boundary reorganization issues and has assisted school districts with the closing of schools and the sale or lease of surplus properties. This has included all aspects of disposing of surplus property including, negotiations with cities and counties over zoning issues and assisting school districts with community or political opposition.
While we strive to avoid disputes or resolve them at the earliest possible date and the least cost, the Firm has successfully litigated property acquisitions and school construction disputes.
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School Facilities Finance
During the last five years, the Firm has acted as bond counsel for more than 75 public agency financings throughout California, ranging in size from less than $500,000 to over $100,000,000. Of these, approximately 70 were on behalf of school districts, and included the issuance of general obligation bonds, certificates of participation, Mello-Roos bonds, Marks-Roos bonds, and tax and revenue anticipation notes. The Firm has provided bond counsel services to California school districts on a number of voter-approved general obligation bond issues in the past few years.
In recent elections, our Firm has represented a substantial number of school districts in the State holding school bond elections on each election date. These have included both elections requiring 2/3rds and 55% voter approval. Care was given as to the latter to meet the requirements of Proposition 39 and related State legislation in addition to future "State Reimbursement" requirements including "Bridge Financing" issues. Also, our Firm drafted the initial language included in SB 1129, allowing a School Facilities Improvement District (SFID) to conduct a Proposition 39 (55%) voter election and issue approved bonds. Additionally, our firm was one of the first firms, Statewide, to file a successful validation action to affirm a Proposition 39 election with a regularly scheduled local election. We work with a variety of school districts across the State, from small rural school districts to larger, more urban issuers, utilizing different sale structures and scenarios, including both competitive as well as negotiated sales.
Subsequent to the passage of Proposition 39 in November 2000, by the voters of the State of California, our firm took a lead role with regard to clarifying and implementing provisions of Proposition 39 which lowers, under certain circumstances, the threshold to approve the issuance of general obligation bonds from a 2/3 approval requirement to a 55% approval requirement.
Our Firm has also taken a leading role in the initial implementation of the Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982, and we continue to assist school districts Statewide in the use of community facilities districts as a facilities finance option. Most recently, the Firm has pioneered the use and formation of the core, annexable community facilities district to enable the construction of school facilities to keep pace with residential development.
The combination of our broad-based public finance experience and our specialized school funding practice distinguishes our Firm from other bond counsel firms in California. We believe that our success in the area of school finance is attributable in part to our exposure to school-related issues, including State facilities programs, pending legislation, and mitigation of new development impacts, which enables us to anticipate and respond effectively to questions that arise in conjunction with matters of finance.
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The Firm regularly addresses constitutional questions raised by its school district and other public agency clients, including issues related to privacy rights, drug testing, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and due process requirements associated with employee discipline and discharge.
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Water District General Services
The firm also has substantial experience in the negotiation of property rights, easements, and rights-of-way, including the negotiation of agreements for the relocation of water facilities while preserving the water agency's prior property rights. The firm regularly reviews public works construction contracts on behalf of its clients for compliance with applicable public contract requirements, including those set forth in the Public Contract Code, Labor Code, and Civil Code provisions governing stop notices and summary proceedings for release of retentions.
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