The Rancho Santa Fe School District board voted Sept. 1 to move forward on preparing a mitigated negative declaration for its parking lot plan, paving the current dirt teacher parking lot on the Dacus property on El Fuego with an option to install solar panels on the lot's canopies.
A mitigated negative declaration (MND) could be completed for the project instead of a full environmental impact report (EIR), certifying that no significant environmental impacts have been determined.
At the board's Aug. 4 meeting, RSF School District Superintendent David Jaffe had proposed three options to the board which included the MND; a full EIR for the district's entire master plan area, which includes property they do not own yet; or no project at this time. After reviewing all of the options, Jaffe recommended that the board pursue the mitigated negative declaration just on the property the district already owns.
"What the mitigated negative declaration provides us is the report necessary if we choose to move forward with the parking lot and potential solar project," Jaffe said.
Jaffe said the district would still have the option to not move forward. As board member Scott Kahn said, the MND is not a commitment to build, it is just to gather information.
At a future meeting, Jaffe will come back with the cost of the MND, the scope of the work, the environmental group who would prepare the report and projections on construction costs of any potential project.
In December 2015, the board approved its master plan for the district, which includes purchasing and closing a portion of El Fuego, the road now bordering the west side of the 7-acre campus, and rerouting traffic westward, to Mimosa Place. The plan also calls for the district to acquire properties now owned by private parties and the Rancho Santa Fe Association.
During public comment, Mimosa resident John Giovenco reminded the board that the development along Mimosa and El Fuego has been a controversial issue for at least a decade and was a subject of a lawsuit in 2009.
Giovenco said that the lawsuit alleged that 2009 plan for Dacus was not in compliance with California Environmental Quality Act regulations. The suit was settled in 2010, permitting the school to proceed with the current parking lot on the El Fuego site; however, the terms of the settlement included that the district may not develop other specific properties on El Fuego or Mimosa without obtaining an EIR and that the district shall consult with the community and residents during the early stages of any future development process.
"The district began violating the agreement almost immediately after signing it and is still in violation," Giovenco said. "There has been continuous planning to develop properties along Mimosa and El Fuego with absolutely no consultation with the community, including residents of Mimosa."
Giovenco said that the district's master plan must have taken months if not years to complete and there was no consultation with neighbors even though it proposes the acquisition of properties all along Mimosa.
"How can the board move ahead on the Dacus property when the district is in continuous violation of the previous agreements? Is there to be no transparency of the district's plans, no input from your neighbors whose lifestyle and homes are directly affected? No outreach to the community?" asked Giovenco. "Such disregard for the agreement terms and a loss of goodwill and credibility will certainly, at a minimum, affect any bond issuance necessary to further your plans."
Jaffe noted that as part of the mitigated negative declaration, there is an opportunity for community input. While it is not as long a process as a full EIR, there will be a chance for public comment in the report.