ENCINITAS — After years of delays, court filings and disagreements, the Cardiff School District announced on June 3 that it has reached a settlement allowing the completion of remaining upgrades at Cardiff Elementary.
The settlement marks the end of a yearslong battle between the school district and various entities, including local group Save the Park and state and federal agencies (National Park Service and California Department of Parks and Recreation) regarding the terms of a 1993 land use grant agreement.
The legal question centered on whether the school district could convert select areas of George Berkich Park to non-recreational uses under the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, which required the park be designated for public outdoor recreation use in perpetuity.
“We are so excited to finally complete these necessary improvements for our students’ and families’ safety, security, and educational programs,” said Rhea Stewart, board president of the Cardiff School District. “This settlement allows us to finally complete this critical feature of our campus to make sure our students and teachers gain access to additional 21st century school facilities improvements and remain safe.”
According to a district release, the terms of the settlement agreement will allow the school district to complete the final two elements of its long-awaited school modernization project, including a multipurpose room and turf field restoration.
The district must also contribute $570,000 to help the state locate replacement property.
Eleanor Musick, a representative for Save the Park, a local group that sued the school district, responded to the news of the settlement with a written statement, which reads in part:
“The district’s press release that is it ‘contributing’ $570,000 to the state is yet another falsehood — this is a buy-out of their obligation under the (Land and Water Conservation Fund Act) agreement for conversion of a portion of Berkich Park — it is not a contribution at all, and lest you forget, your taxpayer dollars are funding it,” Musick wrote. “For years to come, Cardiff taxpayers’ will be shouldering the burden of long term debt for the $22 million bond, which was exhausted well before many of the promised improvements were funded, plus two additional loans totaling around $8 million.”
A majority of the school’s upgrades, funded primarily by Measure GG, have been completed since construction began in 2020, including new classrooms, lunch area, student drop-off and pick-up areas, playfields, improved ADA access and new drainage and bio-filtration systems to prevent flooding of the adjacent streets.
The project is expected to be completed by spring 2023.