NPS rescinds Cardiff School boundary approval

Construction on the new Cardiff School was halted by court order in July.
Construction on the new Cardiff School was halted by court order in July.

Judge upholds injunction preventing construction


On Sept. 11 the National Park Service reversed the approval of a boundary adjustment of the Cardiff School playfields, known as George Berkich Park. The approval is at the center of a lawsuit filed against the Cardiff School District by the neighborhood group Save the Park and Build the School.

Pursuant to the 1993 Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grant agreement, the park is to remain open and available for the public in perpetuity and any proposed changes require state and federal approval of a boundary adjustment. The layout of the new school calls for an encroachment onto the park in order to build a safer pick-up/drop-off area for students and a multipurpose room. The district has stated that the design keeps the majority of the playfields intact while adding enhancements for educational programs and for community use.

NPS approved the boundary conversion in April 2020. In May, Save the Park requested reconsideration of the NPS approval and in June filed the lawsuit against the district, NPS and the director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR).

In a memo on Sept. 11, NPS outlined three issues that led to the reconsideration. The memo stated that the proposed replacement areas of the hard court area and parking lot were not eligible under NPS rules for use as replacement property. Additionally, the garden area of the school proposed as replacement property also raised concerns with regard to compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act.

“We are astounded by the actions of NPS. The district followed the explicit guidance of both NPS and DPR through a lengthy process that resulted in an unconditional approval from both agencies. No facts regarding the project have changed since the original approval in April,” said Cardiff Superintendent Jill Vinson in a news release. “This is a complete about-face from what these agencies have communicated to us for the last two and half years as we have worked to regain compliance with the LWCF grant requirements.”

Eleanor Musick of Save the Park stated that the group was pleased with the results of NPS’ review and said the reversal should not have come as a surprise to the district.

“The district was fully aware of the substantial evidence that Save the Park had submitted to NPS both before and after its premature approval of the project in April,” Musick said. “Importantly, the LWCF Program Manual expressly states, ‘[Conversion] approval is a discretionary action and should not be considered a right of the project sponsor.’ The district had to know there were no guarantees from the very start.”

Per the LWCF Park Stewardship Guide, if NPS does not approve the conversion proposal or the replacement land, “the grantee cannot move forward with converting the land until a subsequent conversion proposal is approved by NPS.” The district said at this time it will evaluate the determination and review it with the related agencies to establish the appropriate path forward.

Following the NPS action, Judge Larry A. Burns denied the district’s request to remove or modify the injunction, which has prohibited construction activity within the old boundary since July 20.

“The interests at stake are best served by an injunction,” Burns wrote in his Sept. 11 order. “While the local public has an interest in opening Cardiff School in time for in-person instruction, the broader public has a countervailing interest in ensuring compliance with federal laws and regulations. In the absence of NPS approval, the latter interest is substantially stronger.”

The injunction has prevented the district from constructing elements such as a replacement ADA accessible walkway to reach classrooms and student restrooms as well as the pick-up/drop-off area, both of which the district stated are necessary in order to have students on the campus. As it could not complete the work, the district made the decision to postpone in-person learning on campus, which was set to begin on Sept. 14.

Given the current ruling, a temporary ADA accessible walkway and modifications to the unfinished parking lot and drop-off/pick-up area will be implemented as an interim measure of the school. The district said the temporary measures are “unacceptable” as a long-term solution, however, it will allow students to resume in-person instruction at the school within the next two to three weeks.

“No result from any lawsuit will change or distract us from our commitment to completing the rebuilding of the school and meet the goal of providing Cardiff students with the safe and modern learning environment that the community voted for,” said Siena Randall, Cardiff school board president. “The safety and education of the students remain our priorities and we will find the right path that allows us to move forward.”