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Hearing in lawsuit over Del Mar Heights rebuild delayed to December

A rendering of the Del Mar Heights School rebuild
A rendering of the Del Mar Heights School rebuild.
(Rendering)

Legal proceedings have once again been delayed on the Del Mar Heights School rebuild.

The trial court continued the October hearing on the latest litigation filed by Save the Field against the city of San Diego and the Del Mar Union School District over the rebuild’s environmental analysis, setting a tentative decision date out to Dec. 16.

Update:

2:51 p.m. Nov. 2, 2022Edited to include a statement from Save the Field

Recently on Oct. 26, the Fourth District Court of Appeal issued its final opinion in favor of the district in the first lawsuit filed against the district by Save the Field.

The Court of Appeal found that the district complied with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and that the process allowed for appropriate and informed public participation. After reviewing 14 volumes of the district’s CEQA documents, the court concluded it was complete and upheld the prior judgment of trial court Judge Wohlfiel.

“This is an extremely important decision and helps us get closer to rebuilding the Del Mar Heights School,” said Erica Halpern, DMUSD board president in a news release. “Litigation to obstruct this vital project will not deter the board from fighting to get our kids back in this school.”

After the district held a groundbreaking ceremony in March and tore down the old school, it was the second lawsuit that forced an injunction to halt construction. While construction on the school has been stopped, the district was able to move forward with repairs to the outfalls in the neighboring Torrey Pines Reserve Extension, completed in October.

Once ground broke in the spring, Balfour Beatty Construction had committed to an expedited 14-month build with the hope for the school to be completed by May 2023. With the hearing delayed out to December, the district is concerned about the length of time and the impacts on costs as well as on displaced students.

At an Oct. 14 hearing on the second lawsuit, the district’s legal counsel shared DMUSD’s concern about the further continuance and requested a sooner date, however, the trial court stated that they would not be able to hold the hearing any earlier than Dec. 16.

The opponents, represented by Procopio, have maintained their position that a full environmental impact report (EIR) is required and that the city was not entitled to issue a permit when the environmental documents violated CEQA.

In a statement, Save the Field said the full EIR is needed to evaluate the impacts of wildfire, traffic, evacuation and recreation.

“DMUSD dismissed all of these concerns. Instead of evaluating the importance of safety concerns, they encouraged divisiveness, and sponsored harassment towards those who spoke up,” the statement from Save the Field said. “No one wants delays, but we need to address imperative safety concerns about wildfire, evacuation and traffic reduction. The current overbuilt design only compounds these threats by adding more cars, students, faculty and traffic to an already impacted neighborhood.”

The district denied that it encouraged harassment.

Save the Field has advocated for a modernization alternative that is “right-sized” for the current and projected future enrollment of the area.

“Enrollment is in steep decline in California and districtwide. This design wastes our valuable tax dollars. Let’s come together and find a solution that gives voters what we expected: a small neighborhood school with safe traffic and evacuation, 100’ of defensible space and a design that preserves vital open space,” Save the Field’s statement read. “Let’s find a solution that protects the lives of the students and neighbors, build the small school we voted for and protect both Heights and Hills for all future generations.”

The Measure MM ballot language in 2016 did not specifically call for a “small” school—the project list stated that funds would be used to “redesign and reconstruct” the school.

While an appeal to the California Supreme Court is anticipated in the first lawsuit, the district said it will continue to fight so that it can build a new, modern, state-of-the-art school for children in Del Mar.

“The district has taken the time to do this project right,” said DMUSD Superintendent Holly McClurg in a news release. “We appreciate the Court of Appeal acknowledging the sufficiency of our environmental review and we look forward to an end to the litigation so our students’ needs can be met.”

In February, the board approved a change order for an additional $2.1 million for the Heights rebuild, on top of an additional $5 million price escalation last fall. At a recent Measure MM Independent Citizens Oversight Committee meeting, the rebuild’s budget was stated as $66.3 million.

At the last school board meeting, the board had to approve a new $97,000 contract for busing to transport Heights students to Ocean Air School for the rest of the year, almost double the cost of their former transportation service—the service was unable to provide the number of buses needed to serve the route due to an industry-wide shortage of buses.

“I get so frustrated when I see additional costs that have to be associated with Del Mar Heights, it’s absurd, ” remarked Trustee Gee Wah Mok. “We wouldn’t have needed two buses... so hopefully the school gets rebuilt as quickly as possible.”


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