ENCINITAS — After months of drawn-out appeals and lawsuits, the Cardiff School District received final approval from the state and federal agencies to move forward with construction at its Cardiff Elementary School campus.
After halting progress until obtaining approval from the California Office of Grants and Local Services (OGALS) and the National Park Service (NPS), the district will move forward with the construction of a multipurpose room, parking lot and pickup/drop-off area in the approved boundary adjustments.
According to the district, the majority of playfields will remain intact while enhancing the functionality of the space for educational programs and community services, in addition to increasing security for children before and after school.
“We are thrilled to receive final OGALS/NPS approval, and we look forward to delivering a beautiful new school that has been promised to Cardiff voters since 2016,” Superintendent Jill Vinson said.
Critics of the district’s construction plans have fiercely opposed any designs that build on the park’s boundaries, claiming a 1993 federal grant agreement requires the park remain in perpetuity.
In a lawsuit filed in January 2019, the Cardiff Preservation Society and it’s “Save the Park” campaign called on the district to halt all construction to explore its impact on the surrounding community and environment.
As recently as January, “Save the Park” representatives doubted whether the district would receive the necessary NPS approval; with the recent approval, they now question the manner in which the NPS consented to said boundary adjustments.
Additionally, Eleanor Musick of the “Save the Park” campaign claims the settlement reached in March between the district and “Save the Park” never disposed of the court’s initial ruling of CEQA non-compliance.
“The project is still out of compliance with California environmental laws,” Musick said. “[It] violates an express condition for approval by the NPS.”
The group believes the district threatened legal action against the NPS, although Musick says the group does not yet possess legal documents to prove such an accusation.
“There was a threat hanging there,” Musick said. “Our plan is to get the National Park Service to revoke their approval.”
Cardiff School District is relieved to move forward with construction, however, the lawsuit was not without casualties after necessary changes to the project’s timeline, scope, and budget.
“Multiple classroom buildings that were originally planned have had to be tabled for the future,” the district said in a release, “and a construction delay means students will not be able to occupy the new buildings at the start of the school year, as originally scheduled.”
“The district is now focused on the future, which is to continue rebuilding a campus that has been a hub of the Cardiff community for over a century,” Vinson said.
Caitlin Steinberg is a Leucadia resident who is covering all things Encinitas for The Coast News.
She is also a fine art photographer, as well as a military historian and CEO of Operation Green Faces, a 501(c)3 nonprofit preserving the oral histories of UDT & SEAL Team operators in the Vietnam War.