Fight over school construction divides North County community

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ENCINITAS, Calif. – A long-running battle is heating up again the over the completion of a North County school after a citizen group filed another lawsuit to stop the work.

“We’re in a global pandemic. Every single classroom matters and the time of those classrooms being available is now,” said parent Lisa Hoek. “We need those classrooms for the kids now!”

Hoeck has four children in the Cardiff School District and says the lawsuits and the resulting delays in the project to upgrade Cardiff Elementary School are tearing the upscale coastal community apart.

“Basically they extorted our citizens for millions of dollars in attorneys fees,” Hoeck said, referring to the people opposed to the project. “There was rain, construction delays, issues on campus — the campus was closed for multiple months for construction work.  It was just a mess.”

In 2016, Encinitas voters passed  a bond measure to rebuild the school that serves kindergarten through second grade. Then a handful of residents who live across the street from the school formed a non-profit  to fight the project because of environmental concerns.  Other residents were outraged and rallied for weeks before the case was settled in February 2020 for about $500,000. Finally, the project commenced.

“Every time the district made a change to try and address one of their concerns, there was a new concern, until they finally found this agreement,” said school board president Sienna Randall.

The agreement Randall is referring to is with the National Park Service, which in 1993 created a joint-use park next to the school in perpetuity.  The district says it worked with the Park Service to get approval to expand on park land. But the opponents of the school expansion argue in their lawsuit that the agreement is illegal.

“They did not comply with the most basic requirements for getting this approval granted and the National Park Service ignored the fact that they didn’t follow the rules and issued an approval,” said school expansion opponent Elanor Musick. “So that’s the reason for the federal lawsuit, because the National Park Service did not abide by its own rules.”

Lisa  Hoeck says that there may be problems with the agreement, but the goal of remodeling the school is more important.

“This is a day and age where kids have safe lockdown drills because of gun violence, and [the opponents] want to change the location because maybe it obstructs your view or your parking is different,” she charged.

But Musick said she and the other opponents are not trying to stop the school construction to save their views.

“That’s one thing the school keeps saying to inflame, to raise tension, saying, ‘Oh, these people only care about their views.’ It’s false,” she said.

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