‘Focused’ EIR on Del Mar Heights School rebuild out for public review

A comparison between the current and proposed Del Mar Heights campus layouts.

Del Mar Union School District’s draft focused environmental impact report (EIR) for the Del Mar Heights School rebuild was released on April 28 and will be open for a 45-day public comment period through June 11.

The final environmental review document will be circulated from June 18-28 and is expected to be approved at the board’s June 30 meeting. At that point it would be filed back with the court and upon resolution of litigation with Save the Field, the district could resume the coastal development permit process with the city of San Diego.

“This is the next step in the process to get this important rebuild project completed,” said Holly McClurg, superintendent of the Del Mar Union School District in a release. “The students, their parents, and the vast majority of the community this school serves are eager to get this school back in service providing benefits to the children and taxpayers as it has for the last 60 years.”

In approving the plans to rebuild Del Mar Heights School, in May 2020 the district adopted a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) which concluded that the rebuild would result in no significant effects on the environment and instead improve the pre-existing conditions.

Those findings were challenged in court by Save the Field and the court ruled that three issues required further assessment. As a result, the district moved to prepare the focused EIR analyzing whether the sensitive Chaparral habitat in the neighboring Torrey Pines Reserve Extension will be disturbed due to repairs to two stormwater drainage systems, as well as analyzing the impact of temporary noise from on-site construction of the school.

A third issue involving traffic impacts caused by the proposed new stairs and ADA ramp on Mira Montana Drive was resolved after the board removed the access point from the plans in January.

The focused EIR found that there are no significant, unmitigated biological impacts associated with repairing and revegetating the two stormwater outflows, which in their current state are causing erosion. The repair of one of the outfalls would temporarily impact less than 0.01 acre of sensitive southern maritime chaparral and no special status species were discovered.

The stormwater outflow will be repaired and revegetated as part of the project.

It also found that the construction noise issue was “less than significant” with the addition of mitigations such as noise walls. The temporary noise barriers, ranging from eight to 16 feet, will be placed around the school site and on Mira Montana.

Per the DEIR, at least 30 days prior to the start of construction activities, all off-site residents within 300 feet of the project will be notified of the planned construction activities. The notification will include contact numbers for the district and contractor in the event of a noise or vibration complaint. At least 10 days prior to the start of construction activities, a sign will be posted at the job site that includes permitted construction days and hours as well as contact information.

Other noise mitigation strategies include noise control techniques on equipment and trucks, and rules about unnecessary engine idling and limiting noise-producing signals.

Unlike the MND document prepared last year, the California Environmental Quality Act requires that an EIR include a discussion of reasonable project alternatives.

The focused EIR provides an analysis of a campus modernization alternative in which the existing buildings would be modernized within the same footprint, the portables replaced and the various school utilities and infrastructure upgraded. The 48-space parking lot would be resurfaced but remain the same size.

Per the EIR, compared to the proposed project, the modernization alternative is “environmentally neutral for biological resources and superior for construction noise but it does not meet any of the project objectives.” Project objectives are listed as: providing a safe and up-to-date campus that enhances students’ learning environment; improving circulation and reducing offsite congestion by increasing onsite parking and drop-off/pick-up zones; and providing the public with updated recreational amenities.

With the latest enrollment numbers presented to the board on April 28, the district is projecting 300 Del Mar Heights students in 2021-22. Like this year, with the Heights campus unavailable, Heights students will be split between the Ocean Air and Del Mar Hills Academy campuses.

The original schedule for the rebuilt Del Mar Heights would have had the school reopening for the 2021-22 school year, however, given the delays, the revised schedule is still to be determined.

The focused DEIR is available to the public for review at the district office on 11232 El Camino Real and online at dmusd.org/Page/8854