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Cardiff school rebuild wins Encinitas council favor

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A district rendering shows the configuration of the new school.
(Courtesy)

Following a three-hour hearing that included comments from 28 public speakers, the Encinitas City Council on Wednesday, May 22, endorsed the Cardiff School District’s plan to rebuild much of one of its two campuses.

The council voted 4-0 to deny an appeal by opponents of the district’s Cardiff School Modernization and Reconstruction project, which is being financed by a $22 million bond measure passed in 2016.

After the council’s denial of the appeal, the city will issue a coastal development permit for the first phase of the project, which consists of demolishing and replacing eight buildings. Supporters of the project say the existing buildings are deteriorating and compromise students’ education and safety.

Among the speakers at Wednesday’s hearing, 22 supported denial of the appeal, while six spoke in favor. Another 40 among the approximately 100 residents crowding into the council chamber submitted slips in favor of striking the appeal. Two provided slips favoring approval, according to the city clerk.

“To me, it appears they’ve met all the qualifications to be issued a coastal development permit,” Councilman Tony Kranz said of the district’s plan for Phase 1.

Public school district building projects are typically subject to state review and exempt from land-use control by local governments.

However, Cardiff School, which offers sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, is subject to the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission. School development projects must comply with cities’ Local Coastal Plans and be accepted by the state commission.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear did not participate in Wednesday’s hearing since she lives near the triangle-shaped elementary school property bordered by San Elijo, Montgomery and Mozart avenues and could have a potential conflict of interest.

The council members who did vote declined to act on the project’s second phase and its most controversial aspect.

Phase 2 includes an expansion of the school’s building footprint into district-owned open space known as George Berkich Park, named after a former principal.

Opponents say the expansion onto the parkland violates an agreement signed by the city, district and the federal park officials in 1993 guaranteeing that section of the campus fronted by San Elijo and overlooking the Pacific Ocean would remain open and recreational space forever.

After the Encinitas Planning Commission voted 3-0 earlier this year in favor of issuing the permit, a citizens group titled Save the Park and Build the School filed a lawsuit opposing the approval. The suit is pending consideration in Superior Court.

In addition to their contention that the district’s plan expansion into the park space is an illegal conversion, opponents allege the entire proposal violates various city policies and restrictions.

Encinitas resident Russell Davis said the city’s support for the project would be a “train wreck.”

“(The district’s) failure to plan doesn’t make you responsible for its failure to plan,” Davis said, warning council members against approval.

Planning commissioners had determined Phase 1 was in compliance with city rules and regulations, and the city’s staff supported their interpretation.

The staff, however, recommended postponing action on the second phase involving the park until the city has proof that an agreement has been worked out among city, district, federal and state officials that amends the 1993 agreement to accept the district’s plans. The state Office of Grants and Local Services oversees management of the park site.

In their denial of the appeal, council members specified that no structural development should occur on the park site until an agreement is reached among the parties.

Also, they agreed to create a joint committee consisting of council members Tony Kranz and Kellie Shay Hinze and two representatives from the district’s board to have an ongoing dialogue about the park negotiations.

Councilwoman Jody Hubbard, who as deputy mayor conducted the meeting in Blakespear’s absence, stressed the city should have a solid agreement in place before acting on Phase 2.

“My biggest concern is what if it doesn’t go your way, and you start your construction and you can’t complete it,” Hubbard said of the district’s contention that an agreement is imminent. “As a taxpayer, I think that’s incredibly irresponsible.

“I will support the motion to deny the appeaI, but I have some very big concerns going forward, and I hope you don’t put that shovel into the ground until you have a clear path to completion.”


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