A good fight

On Tuesday May 14, DMUSD trustees voted to move forward with the new Heights’ school design by certifying their CEQA documents – demolition as early as late June. The board vote was unanimous and without a single alteration of plans in response to legitimate citizen and public agency concerns about fields, wildfire evacuation, traffic, impacts to the nature reserve, COVID-19 student compaction during the pandemic, or any other issue. This is as we predicted a few months ago, once we learned how much already had transpired behind the curtain, including over 300 pages of construction documents finalized down to the type and location of every tree and shrub and filed with the State Architect in February.

Our first campaign at Play Outside was to save the magic of the “field of dreams” as well as the blacktop play space for the kids of today and tomorrow and for our community – following our guiding principles of honesty, transparency, accountability, and public service.

It’s worth noting that we always agreed with our opponents on something important – the goal of new buildings at the school. Where we parted was on this: they wanted new buildings a few months earlier; we wanted new buildings and old magic forever.

I wish I could report some measure of success. The final numbers show otherwise. In last Friday’s DMUSD CEQA response to comments, the district openly confessed to trading 2.1 acres of fields, baseball, and playgrounds in a near-even exchange for more parking, car queue, buildings, and decomposed granite paths/gathering areas.

The final numbers for both field size and blacktop are, by our carefully checked measurements, significantly less than half of what exists in today’s school. The field will be the district’s smallest by about 8,000 square feet and 40% smaller than the district average. Although the loss of fields and blacktop was a core issue in CEQA, the district did not state any numbers for them. Our numbers were front and center and unchallenged.

Even disconnected green space – which the district clung to throughout these last few months as the sole positive spin they could offer us from a play perspective – is now admitted to have dropped another 19,132 sf from what’s still displayed on the district website, without explanation. We’re now down to 108,692 sf from the 142,919 sf that the district promoted in October in the Del Mar Times, according to the district’s own numbers that include the entire “tot lot” area.

Certainly DMUSD Board President Erica Halpern’s October 30 statement in the Del Mar Times, that – “Overall there’s less than a five percent decrease in field space and actually an increase in the amount of green space that kids can actually use.” – has turned out to be a far cry from what actually happened. Both field and green space have dropped precipitously.

Perhaps Play Outside and community members that submitted comments accomplished one good thing by nudging the district to solidify in legal filings its commitment to continued public access of the Heights’ grounds outside the school day. We hope that sticks.

I along with others have made enemies trying to save the Heights’ fields and play spaces – no doubt about it. I predicted this might happen in my first blog post, as I began to share what troubling facts we had learned. But none of us had any idea how much we would learn about our school district and how low some of our neighbors would go. This includes insults and threats by a Heights’ PTA Executive Board member (whom neither I nor my family knows) that mentioned my 12 year old son’s name and school at Tuesday’s public CEQA meeting – without rebuke by the Board.

While I disagree with DMUSD’s certification of its CEQA documents and think the new information provided to the public in their response to comments may be unlawful, I’ve previously made clear that Play Outside will not take or participate in legal action against the district to stop the school rebuild.

I’ll close with a favorite memory. Early in our movement, I received a handwritten note by mail, from someone I’ve still never met. It started: This is a good fight!

I kept that note on my desk these many months and have drawn motivation from it. It’s true – the magical Field of Dreams at Del Mar Heights School is something worth saving, something historic and irreplaceable in our community, something worthy of our sacrifice. I do not regret that we’ve fought to save it.

Stay safe and healthy.

John Gartman
President

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