Mira Montana access point removed from Del Mar Heights School rebuild

The existing dirt path access from Mira Montana is seen in a rendering of the rebuild.

At a Jan. 19 special meeting, the Del Mar Union School District board approved the removal of a stairway and ramp from the Mira Montana Drive cul-de-sac in order to address one of the three remaining issues from litigation by Save the Field over the Del Mar Heights School rebuild.

According to the district, the stairs and ADA-compliant ramp on the southeastern side of Mira Montana were added as an amenity following requests from the community to improve the existing dirt path access. The pathway would provide a new pedestrian connection leading to the school as well as to the walking path along the canyon rim on the school field.

DMUSD staff believes that rather than become involved in another dispute with Save the Field over potential traffic along Mira Montana, it would be best to remove the proposed construction from the project and focus on the remaining two issues.

“While the board expressed disappointment about eliminating an access amenity the community had requested, they did not want endless litigation to further delay the completion of this important rebuild project,” said the district in a a statement. “Litigation has consequences, but this rebuild project is a major priority as the students who would be at that school today have been displaced to other campuses within the district.”

This school year, Heights students are attending school at Ocean Air and Del Mar Hills. Construction on the new school was expected to begin last summer, however, the district is still in the process of acquiring a coastal development permit from the city of San Diego. The new school was supposed to welcome students by fall 2021.

According to the district, the court will address the next steps.

In the lawsuit, Save the Field had contended that the construction of the ramp and stairs would create a de-facto drop-off and pick-up area at the end of Mira Montana Drive creating traffic impacts that had not been studied by the district. Per Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil’s tentative ruling on Dec. 22, evidence existed to support the argument that the combination of increased vehicle access with construction of a new campus entry point would increase vehicle traffic on Mira Montana, resulting in a significant impact that has not been addressed.

“Save The Field advocates rebuilding a safe school – and that means DMUSD must fully and properly address traffic, including evacuation of students and residents from wildfire in an area surrounded by Torrey Pines Reserve,” said Rick Schloss, a spokesperson for Save the Field. “Once again, DMUSD is trying to dodge its responsibility to students, families and the community by shortcutting a traffic study. Minor tweaks like eliminating the south gate don’t address the issues or replace the heavily used recreational open space that will be lost forever.”

Per the judge’s ruling, in addition to Mira Montana traffic, the district needs to further study the impact of the temporary noise from the on-site construction of the new school and whether the sensitive Chaparral habitat will be disturbed in the repairs to the two stormwater drainage systems in the neighboring Torrey Pines Reserve.

“DMUSD has an opportunity to rethink and redesign, protect safety, and preserve precious open space,” Schloss said. “We call upon DMUSD leadership to quit forcing a flawed plan on the community, and instead, to truly lead with creative solutions to rebuild the school and Save The Field for generations to come.”

While the judge had concluded that there were areas that the district should study further, 10 out of the 13 complaints against the district’s California Environmental Quality Act process were found to be without merit.

Per the district statement, they are pleased that they have been successful on the main points of contention with the neighboring homeowners and are ready to move forward: “Our priority is getting children back to school on this campus as soon as possible.”