DMUSD’s latest public falsehood – April 14 board meeting

Little did I know when we started Play Outside’s campaign to save the Heights’ playfields, that we’d end up right where we started – correcting an important public falsehood by DMUSD.

Before going there, I hope all of you and your families and loved ones are safe and healthy and that things stay that way for you.

We started this journey publicly on November 13 – by exposing DMUSD’s planned 2/3 field shrinkage, documenting that the field measurements were off by 22,000 square feet, and highlighting trustee falsehoods stated in the Del Mar Times (such as “there’s less than a five percent decrease in field space” – Oct. 30)

We figured that would be that. We’d dust off our hands, DMUSD would turn to clean living, and we’d all talk transparently and honestly going forward.

Play Outside’s website history shows we were naive and wrong.

The latest falsehood happened at the April 14 board meeting, where DMUSD staff told the public that no state agency publicly commented on CEQA. This was not only said out loud – it was also displayed on the slide below that remains on DMUSD’s website today.

At this point, I believe nothing DMUSD says, until I verify it. To verify it, I sent a public records request both to DMUSD and to California State Parks, the trustee and manager of the 197 acre Torrey Pines Nature Preserve Extension, DMUSD’s closest and biggest neighbor at the Heights’ school.

As you can see below, DMUSD’s statement on April 14 was FALSE. A state agency, California State Parks, did submit comments – delivered by email to the very same DMUSD staff member who presented the slide. I posted them on our site a few days ago.

Why would DMUSD bury State Parks’ comments in yet another public falsehood? – that’s the question.

Maybe they didn’t want the comments known because they couldn’t belittle and brush off comments by California State Parks using the same approach and narrative that they used to brush off the comments of Play Outside and Save the Field – the only two organizations they actually did mention by name at their April 14 board meeting. Personal accusations and false talk about “multiple shell corporations” and wild stories about people suing the district in nonsensical moneymaking schemes just wouldn’t have gone very far against State Parks – so maybe State Parks got removed from the storyline for that reason.

This seems plausible because DMUSD also didn’t divulge the Sierra Club’s comments or the City of San Diego’s comments – two other entities that would be hard to put down in the eyes of the public.

Or maybe instead, it was because State Parks’ comments raised the same type of wildfire-related issues that the Sierra Club, Play Outside, Save the Field, and other members of the public raised in their CEQA comments on this project – and it might have been more difficult for DMUSD to distance itself from a real discussion of wildfire risk in the new design, with State Parks weighing in.

This second one is my pick. I think they buried it because they didn’t want people to know that State Parks was concerned about wildfire defensible space (they call it “fuel buffering”) between the proposed buildings and the heavily wooded fuel sources in the adjacent Reserve – a result of the DMUSD design placing a permanent 27.5 foot tall building close to the edge of the Nature Reserve and steep slopes.

As you can see, State Parks made crystal clear it will not remove fuel from the Reserve to aid buffering – understandably, because the Reserve contains many protected plant and animal species. They also cautioned that any attempt at buffering in the wildland transition zone between the developed portion of the school site and the edge of the Reserve would be considered by them to be significant from an environmental viewpoint absent proper mitigation.

[By the way, had Play Outside not obtained and published the comments of the Sierra Club and City of San Diego, the public would not have known about their comments either.]

In a recent comment in the Del Mar Times, DMUSD trustee Scott Wooden suggested wildfire concerns are just a delay tactic – apparently he even considers State Parks’ concerns about the fuel buffer to be a delay tactic: “I find it interesting through all the discussion of compromises over the past months, not one comment was about safety, in particular wildfire safety. In my opinion this may just be a redirect to continue a delay.”

I’ve heard of a couple other people asking the question: “Why are people raising it now?”

There’s a lock-down answer. In response to progressively worsening wildfire risk and increasing deadly wildfires across the state of California, the California Legislature recently amended CEQA to require that several new and specific questions be addressed on a CEQA review for the highest risk “very high fire hazard severity zones.” Merely waving a building permit won’t cut it – the Legislature wants to insure that project occupants and the adjacent community are informed of the wildfire risks associated with a project in those high hazard zones and that they are openly studied in CEQA. The revised CEQA Guidelines became effective December 28, 2018 and apply to the Heights’ project.

The entire Heights’ school site is in a “very high fire hazard severity zone” and therefore wildfire risk assessment is mandated by state law as of December 2018 as part of CEQA. That is why everyone is talking about it now.

DMUSD failed to properly address wildfire risks in its CEQA documents and provided false and misleading answers in its mandatory filings. It’s manipulative for DMUSD to twist its own legal failures and falsehoods into criticisms of those who stepped up to address them.

If you’d like to share your thoughts or concerns with the DMUSD board of trustees, click this link for a pre-addressed but otherwise blank email.

DMUSD has announced they will approve the project MND at their May 12, 2020 Zoom board meeting. If you’d like to join, click here for instructions on how to listen and/or comment. Our quick review of the agenda materials shows they’re just what we predicted weeks ago – no changes to the project as a result of public comments and CEQA review.

Stay safe.

John Gartman

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