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BREAKING: State ‘unlikely’ to endorse Cardiff school project

ENCINITAS — Officials with the Department of State Parks have informed Cardiff School District that they are unlikely to support the proposed campus redesign and companion boundary adjustment to George Berkich Park. 

They also signaled that the project would likely be subject to a more extensive environmental review process that previously foreseen, something that opponents to the project have called for. 

In the email dated March 26, a supervisor from the state parks’ Office of Grants and Local Services outlined three concerns raised by the National Parks Service with the school district’s proposal, which calls for the construction of an open-air multi-purpose room and amphitheater on a section of the park, which the district owns. 

The district needs the approval of both the state and National Park Service because of a 1993 federal grant agreement that requires the park remain in perpetuity unless the agencies endorse a boundary change.

The most recent rendering for the proposed Cardiff Elementary School campus redesign.
Courtesy rendering/Mullen Communications

That agreement requires the district to replace the lost park land with a corresponding amount of land. 

School District officials have proposed redrawing the boundary to include the school’s parking lot, which would double in size in the new plan, as well as opening the school’s garden for community use.

The City of Encinitas, which also would have to endorse the proposal, was slated to consider it later this month.

“Based on this feedback from the National Parks Service, it is unlikely that OGALS will recommend the boundary adjustment as outlined in the current draft…provided by the school district,” the email states. “The City and the School District should continue to consider other options in moving forward with their proposal.”

Barbara Baker, a supervisor with the Office of Grants and Local Services, said the district’s proposal is problematic because the parking lot would serve mostly a school purpose rather than for park purposes. 

An aerial rendering for the proposed Cardiff Elementary School campus redesign.
Courtesy rendering/Mullen Communications

“The proposal would need to show how park and recreation improvement is being realized by giving up open space area for parking that the school is planning on building for its own use,” Baker wrote in the email. 

Baker also said that the proposal to open the garden to the community would “need to be considered carefully regarding what is actually benefiting public use of the site, when it would be available for public use,” as well as what land would actually be eligible for the swap.

The garden includes the old brick building, which wouldn’t be eligible for park replacement purposes.

Those issues are part of an overarching issue that Baker said exists with the proposal: the district owns both the school and the park and the school would use would take priority for most of the land being used in the swap.

“The entire boundary adjustment presents special concerns due to property ownership, shared school use with school use as the priority, and use of contiguous school-owned priority for replacement,” Baker wrote. 

Opponents of the district’s proposal raised concerns about the proposed land swap in a lawsuit they filed in March to force the district to do a more thorough environmental review of the project’s impacts. 

Eleanor Musick, a Cardiff resident and secretary of the group that filed the suit, said the current parking lot serves the park and school adequately.

“There’s plenty of street parking, and the lot is never full unless there is a soccer tournament,” Musick said. “Otherwise on most most weekends there’s only a handful of cars. The large parking lot is solely for the school’s benefit. It does not improve the park to have a 35,000-square-foot parking lot.”

Baker’s email also informed the district the project likely wouldn’t be eligible for a “small conversion,” which requires a less thorough review of the environmental impacts, because of the controversy surrounding it. 

“Additonally, one of the requirements for a proposal to be considered a “small conversion” is that the proposed conversion is not controversial,” Baker wrote. “It is evident that this is not the case, so a more extensive review by NPS will be required.”

This was also one of the core arguments opponents made in their lawsuit. 

The Coast News has reached out to the State Office of Grants and Local Services and to the Cardiff School District for further comment and will update the story when it is received. 

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