by Brett Farrow
As the demolition of Cardiff Elementary and closure of George Berkich Park begins this week amidst an ongoing lawsuit and divided community, we have a chance to look back on this experience as a lesson and hopefully find a way forward that reunifies a community.
Cardiff Elementary holds a special place in Cardiff-by-the-Sea as the center of the community. Generations of Cardiffians have gone to school there and our School District is recognized as being one of the best educational institutions in the region. It’s also where we vote, home of the school’s sponsored Ice Cream Social, a center for sports and possibly one of the most scenic open space, park settings in Southern California. Putting significant taxpayer funds behind these facilities as a center of the community is the right thing to do. Making sure our children and teachers have the best resources is without a doubt a shared priority for us all.
When a civic institution is given the trust and treasure of a community there is a responsibility to rise above the ordinary modes of real estate development. This means looking at the long view and offering a higher level of consideration beyond just getting the task done. This includes respecting existing and binding legal commitments and going above and beyond to accommodate community concerns. The manner in which the school’s redesign has been brought forward unfortunately did not do this.
As a member of the community who attended every single workshop and community meetings, I can say that consistently and overwhelmingly, the primary comments made by participants was for the school to be rebuilt within the existing footprint, and, preserve the many large, 60-70-year-old trees. Instead, the district moved forward with proposing to build into the rare open space of George Berkich Park and the removal of most of the mature tree canopy. This is the tragedy of this experience.
It has been argued that we must make a choice between losing open space parkland, and the safety of our children. This argument rings hollow, everybody wants our children safe. I have two daughters who have gone through the Cardiff School District system but exploiting parental fear and using emotional scare mongering tactics are inappropriate for a problem that has an easy and practical solution.
The Cardiff School District can and should reconfigure their proposed plan so as to not build into the protected parkland. It’s easy, there is the space within the current school’s already developed boundaries. Additionally, there is no legitimate need to expand the school’s built area when in fact the school’s student population is declining.
Which brings us again to the fact that over 25 years ago a different group of school board members chose to preserve the outdoor recreational areas of George Berkich Park. We can only guess why but recent history gives us some context. At the end of the 20th century, coastal schools were closing, (think of Del Mar and Pacific View school sites). Aging communities had less children and underfunded school districts began selling valuable school district land along the coast. The Cardiff District School Board voluntarily, and willingly entered into an agreement with the National Park Service dedicating in perpetuity the preservation of the parkland as outdoor recreational space. I believe they knew that the loss of this precious community asset was not only possible but likely. This commitment should be honored.
The Cardiff School District could solve this problem by simply relocating the proposed multi-purpose room to be outside of the protected park space, within the school footprint. There is more than enough room immediately adjacent to the school district office at the main entry. Instead of continuing with lengthy legal battles where nobody wins, we have an opportunity for a solution that genuinely benefits everyone. Let’s relocate the multi-purpose room, end the legal fights and move forward again as a community of neighbors, teachers, and children.