Encinitas City Councilman Tony Kranz will serve on the subcommittee alongside Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze.
Cities Community Encinitas

Cardiff School’s modernization project receives Council approval

Above: Encinitas City Councilman Tony Kranz, above, and Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze will serve alongside the school district to help resolve the issues with the boundary adjustment of George Berkich Park. Photo by James Wang

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council has upheld the Planning Commission’s approval of Cardiff School District’s plans to redesign the campus.

But city officials urged the district to work with the city to resolve the controversy surrounding its proposed boundary adjustment and construction of a multi-purpose room on a section of George Berkich Park.

The City Council voted 4-0 on May 22 to deny an appeal filed by the group Save the Park and Build the School to reverse the commission’s approval. The council also, however, voted to create a subcommittee with the city and the school district aimed at resolving the issues with the boundary adjustment.

The approval splits the project into two phases: Phase 1 includes the demolition and construction of eight buildings on campus, while Phase 2 — the multipurpose room, expanded parking lot and boundary adjustment — would be contingent upon City Council, state and federal approval.

Council members Tony Kranz and Kellie Shay Hinze volunteered to serve on the subcommittee, which the Cardiff School board agreed to take up at later board meeting.

Cardiff School District officials have been working on the campus overhaul since 2016, when voters passed Measure GG, a $22 million bond measure. The plan includes the construction of new buildings and of a new multi-purpose room and outdoor terrace-style seating on land that is currently part of the district-owned George Berkich Park.

The park’s baseball field would be eliminated under the proposal, and the district would join the two grass fields, currently separated by playground equipment, to create a longer, contiguous field that could be host to two simultaneous soccer matches.

The district needs the approval of both the state and National Park Service for the project’s second phase because of a 1993 federal grant agreement that requires the park remain in perpetuity unless the agencies endorse a boundary change. 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 also would have to endorse the proposal.

Deputy Mayor Jody Hubbard officiated the appeal after Mayor Catherine Blakespear recused herself because she lives too close to the school. Hubbard expressed disappointment in the school district for moving ahead without resolution to the boundary issue, but said the council wasn’t there to rule on that issue.

“My job here today as a council member is to say whether or not you conformed with the (coastal development permit), which you have,” Deputy Mayor Jody Hubbard said as the council deliberated on the appeal. “But my biggest concern what if it doesn’t go your way and you start your construction and you can’t complete it. As a taxpayer, I think that’s incredibly irresponsible.”

Kranz, who recommended the subcommittee, said that the district and city needed to get on the same page, and having members of the council and school board in the same room would facilitate those efforts.

“All of these separate conversations with (state parks officials) is leading to challenging communications and having significant impact on the ability to resolve the issue,” Kranz said.

In a scene resembling last month’s Planning Commission meeting, supporters donned powder blue T-shirts and urged the City Council to deny the appeal, which they said could delay the project and cost the district $1 million.

Supporters echoed a common refrain: the district has been responsive to the community, and has developed a project favored by a majority of the community that balances the community’s feedback with the district’s desire to create a safe and modern campus for its pupils.

They characterized opponents as a minority group within the community that is protesting the project because it will block their views.

“They’ve masked their real reasons for the appeal and it’s reprehensible,” one supporter said.

The school district leading up to the council meeting issued an open letter to the group asking it to drop its appeal and a separate lawsuit challenging the project, citing similar concerns.

Opponents at the meeting, which were fewer in number than at the appeal, said that the district was trying to bully the opposition while ignoring the looming issues with the boundary request.

“These members have legitimate concerns about the district’s use of public bond money and encroachments into the park,” said Eleanor Musick, a Cardiff attorney who has been one of the more vocal opposition members. “The district has repeatedly attempted to vilify Save the Park members for speaking out to defend legally protected park land. What lesson is the district teaching our children when it publishes an open letter to publicly name and shame individuals in our group for exercising our First Amendment rights and participating in the democratic public process?”

An attorney representing the opposition said that the district’s first phase was in violation of the federal grant agreement because it calls for the construction of a grassy retention basin on the park land, as well as for temporary excavation in the park for the placement of utilities.

City staff, however, determined in its findings that neither of these represented permanent construction on the park land and would not violate the agreement.

Opponents also said that lack of compliance with the agreement would potentially cost city thousands in state grant funds.

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