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Sierra Club backs off Berkich Park statement

ENCINITAS — The San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club has backtracked from a February statement opposing the Cardiff School District’s proposed redesign of the Cardiff Elementary School campus.

The environmental advocacy group on Feb. 1 issued a statement weighing in on the controversy surrounding the district’s proposal — which calls on relocating the school’s multi-purpose room on a section of the district-owned George Berkich Park. 

Opponents have argued that the district’s plans violate a 1993 federal agreement between the district, the Department of State Parks and the U.S. National Parks Service that requires the land to remain a park in perpetuity in exchange for the grant funding unless the state and federal agencies sign off on a change.

Originally, the Sierra Club sided with opponents, calling on the district to honor the agreement and preserve the park — which is immediately adjacent to the campus — in its current form. 

But the club took the rare step of issuing a revised statement, which it released last week, that backs off of the hard rejection of the district’s plan. 

Rather, the revised statement recognizes the district’s desire to update the school and the park and calls on the district to honor the 1993 agreement in a manner “that reflects the current recreational needs of the community.”

Diane Nygaard, the chair of the club’s North County Coastal Group’s conservation committee, read the new statement to the Encinitas City Council at its March 13 meeting, a month before the City Council is expected to weigh in on the district’s proposal.

Nygaard apologized for “the confusion the initial statement seems to have caused,” and said the group’s initial research “was not as thorough as it should have been.”

“After further review we needed to clarify our position,” Nygaard said this week. “It unusual that it happens, but it was important because the initial statement had generated such misunderstanding.”

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 the construction of a new multi-purpose room and outdoor amphitheater 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.

Opponents discovered the 1993 agreement in 2018 and have actively campaigned since that the district should honor the agreement and leave the park untouched. The district, which also learned that a previous renovation in 2002 already violated the agreement, said the new plan would get the district back into compliance with newly drawn boundaries. 

The new boundaries would wrap around the campus’ proposed expanded parking lot to compensate for the park land lost with the new multi-purpose room, which project opponents have panned as an unequal swap.

School officials said that state parks officials recommended the change. 

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