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School district settles lawsuit at a cost of $53,000

RANCHO SANTA FE — The Rancho Santa Fe School District spent a whopping $53,000 in litigation and legal fees to settle a complaint that a complete Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, was not done on the school building site. The district settled out of court at a special school board meeting held Feb. 23. The cost of the settlement was about the cost of a teacher’s salary for one year.
“I’m disappointed we have to spend money that could have been spent on our children, defending lawsuits,” Scot Cheathman, school board president, said.
Richard Marr and Loretta Mature, who own property that neighbors the school, filed the complaint. A settlement was reached to plant a hedge of trees between the school district and the neighboring properties and require a complete EIR if building plans change.
The district will plant up to $7,500 worth of ficus or oleander trees on the south side of the Dacus property, which is owned by the school district, to screen the Marr and Mature properties from a future school parking lot. “We probably needed to do that anyway,” Cheathman said. “Now it’s in writing. We want to be good neighbors.”
The lawsuit was not a surprise. There were complaints from Marr and Mature at school board meetings before the suit was filed. The district said it did everything it was legally required to do to bring building plan forward. The district filed an environmental Mitigated Negative Declaration after studies showed that a full EIR was not necessary.
“They did warn us (they planned to file a lawsuit),” Lindy Delaney, school district superintendent, said. “We would not stop building progress to avoid a lawsuit. It’s unfortunate anybody would want to sue a school district on this.”
Construction of the new 71,000-square-foot K-8 school that began in the summer of 2009 was not interrupted by the litigations. Building is on schedule and students and teachers are expected to be out of temporary portables and into the new school by September.