Court injunction stops Del Mar Heights School construction

The construction site for Del Mar Heights School on pause.

Construction has been temporarily halted on the Del Mar Heights School rebuild after San Diego Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal granted Save the Field’s preliminary injunction on May 12. The action comes about two months after the old school was knocked down and construction began on the new campus on Boquita Drive.

Save the Field’s latest legal action challenges the city of San Diego’s approval of the project, arguing that it did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act because its approvals relied on a court-ordered vacated mitigated negative declaration and a “focused” environmental impact report. Save the Field’s attorneys have argued that environmental review may not be split between two documents.

“Judge Bacal found significant and serious flaws in the Del Mar Union School District’s plans and implementation – so serious as to issue an injunction to protect the environment from further destruction,” said Save the Field in a statement issued on May 18. “DMUSD has consistently and continuously operated as if laws and rules don’t apply to them. The court had to take action issuing the injunction, because the district has ignored the facts and attempted to silence community concerns that raised real, material issues that could and should have been addressed years ago.”

“The district has attempted to shortcut processes and refused to make reasonable modifications which resulted in delay and conflict,” Save the Field’s statement continued. “Ultimately, DMUSD must follow the rules and protect the environment. Save The Field does now and always has supported a reasonably-sized school that meets the needs of students and provides much-needed outdoor recreation space and protects our precious environment.”

According to a message sent to families on May 13, the district respectfully disagrees with the court’s ruling and will be filing a request for an immediate stay of the judge’s order with the Court of Appeal. They hope to receive a decision within the next 30 days, or sooner.

The district said it is unsure about what if any significant delays will occur due to this temporary halt in construction. The new Heights was originally planned to begin construction in summer 2020 and welcome back students in fall 2021. The delays and escalation in construction costs have resulted in a $7 million increase in the rebuild’s price tag, now up to $56 million in Measure MM funds. Attorney fees have topped $440,000.

“This group of opponents has deployed an ongoing, cynical and seemingly endless litigation effort to thwart the will of the voters and stop the long-planned and much needed rebuild of the Del Mar Heights School,” the district’s letter to parents read. “To date, the district has been very successful in battling their challenges to move the project forward. While we know that this is disappointing since it could ultimately mean our children will be further delayed from being educated in their community, the district will continue to prioritize the interests of the children and the vast majority of our constituents by delivering a new, state of the art Del Mar Heights school.”

Per the district, the ruling recognizes the potential for damage to the district and is requiring the opponents to post a $60,000 bond.

“It should be noted that the ruling is not a final ruling on the complaint from the opponents,” the district stated. “It is intended, according to the judge, to ‘keep the status quo’ while the arguments about the validity of the approvals are processed by the court.”

The lawsuit has stirred frustration within the Del Mar community and some residents sent letters of support for the rebuild to Judge Bacal.

On April 27, the district issued a notice out to the community asking them not to send communication to the judge as it is considered improper “ex parte communications” and could negatively impact the district or the ongoing litigation.

In addition to the communication with the judge there have also been allegations of harassment against members of Save the Field including threats, letters sent to their homes, calling them names, dog feces left on doorsteps, and driving by and honking horns and attempting to annoy people at their homes.

“We are asking everyone to maintain civility in their interactions and communications,” the district stated. “We recognize that there will be differences on many issues. However, we want to set a positive example for the children we educate.”

Last week after the injunction was granted, a postcard from a group called Save the Fields Sues Kids targeting those believed to be involved in the lawsuit was either mailed or placed in Del Mar residents’ mailboxes.