Letters to the editor

Joint use now for Del Mar Heights School and Del Mar Hills Academy – Del Mar Times – September 17, 2020

Del Mar Heights school property is closed and guarded by an armed police officer. Del Mar Hills Academy’s playgrounds are restricted to the paid After School Program. Where are the parks my tax dollars are supposed to provide? My kids have been barely holding it together for the last six months, and it was bad enough earlier when these tax-funded “private properties” were closed for public health reasons. Why lock off an unused field and playground?? For what purpose?? During a pandemic when the only reason the playgrounds are unused is because DMUSD didn’t follow the law? We pay for this space, we need our playgrounds. Please, guarantee your tax-paying constituents the right to play in what little open space we have. Do not let the mistakes of the school district further harm the children they have a responsibility to benefit. Your youngest constituents need play space. Joint use now.

Kimberly Hiland Belding – Del Mar Heights resident

An important question to consider – Del Mar Times – September 10, 2020

What is a crime? Depends on who you are.

But, first, let’s remember that we are in the middle of a pandemic. Businesses have shuttered, the economy plummeted, and unemployment soaring. Our saving grace here in Del Mar is a nearly perfect climate. The city let out a collective sigh when the beaches reopened. I’ve never seen so many surfers in the waves. Every evening, there is now a parade of neighbors strolling our blocks. We value nature. We appreciate the mental, physical, and daresay spiritual benefits of fresh air.

Now, let’s turn to our children. For months, they have been stripped of their classrooms and classmates, their athletics and their arts. For those returning to school, supply lists now include masks, shields, and fanny packs equipped with hand sanitizers, cough drops, and tissues. Our children, walking biohazards.

So, you can imagine how relieved parents and children are when the kids take off on their bikes and head to the playground. The little taste of freedom, the silver lining, the stuff a summer should be made of. Here, in our neighborhood, the playgrounds are the schools.

If you can imagine children swinging and riding their bikes with the confidence of independence, you might be shocked to learn that you could be committing a crime.

For the last few weeks, a marked police cruiser with an armed officer has been stationed in the parking lot of the Del Mar Heights School. First, we noticed the circling of the lot and then the waiting for hours. Friends and neighbors texted. What was happening? Was there something going on that we should know about? Finally, I asked. The officer explained that the campus is private property, a closed campus, that neighbors were not permitted to enter. However, she assured me that she would turn a blind eye to some parents with their kids but really was out for the kids who come to the school to play and to climb.

Well, really.

You see. What is a crime? It depends on who you are.

This is discretionary policing. And it is dangerous. What she is saying is that, if you look the part, if you look safe, then you can use the campus without her bothering you. If you don’t, you’re going to have a problem.

Who doesn’t look the part? Is it the group of unmasked teen girls running through the meadow-like grass and taking glamour shots for their social media? Is it the dad who climbed over the fence to fly a kite with his young daughter? Or, is it the group of boys on their first bike ride alone? Who climb, like all kids do, to eat candy in a secret spot? Or, is it a Black child who is wearing a mask? [say his name: Elijah McClain] Or, is it a Black child who looks like he just might have a gun in his hand? [say his name: Tamir Rice ]. See. I have never spotted the police on the other side of Mira Montana where young kids gather in the back of cars to smoke or to reenact a song by John Mellencamp. Instead, they are at schools. Militarizing and terrorizing our youth who are already isolated. Who have already had to live through active shooter drills. Who are children. Who might be approached by an officer with a gun.

What is a crime? Is it a school district who violates the Brown Act, tries to avoid environmental laws, and distorts data to justify unjustifiable costs? Who closes a school and a field in the middle of a pandemic for both education and recreation? Who creates blight in the first place with their failures and delays? Who finds it entertaining to auction off the right to graffiti the school? Who wastes taxpayers money and resources in a time of fiscal crisis by stationing police outside of a school to prevent children from playing? Who doesn’t realize that happy faces and play keep crime at bay and that there are civil and nonviolent ways to protect against liability and danger?

What is a crime? It depends on who you are. If you are in power, perhaps a leader, maybe a crime isn’t a crime. And your consequence is a pay raise and a bonus. But, if you are a boy on a bike. If you are my Black child on a bike at school, playing could be a crime and the consequence could be death.

— Nicole Forrest is a resident of Olde Del Mar

Will they teach Dr. Seuss at the new Del Mar Heights School? – Del Mar Times – May 14, 2020

Dr. Seuss, a local boy from down the road in La Jolla, published the Lorax in 1971. A favorite of early educators (almost) everywhere, it tells a story of shortsighted greed doing long-term harm to under-appreciated community resources. It ends with the author challenging its childhood readers not to let the story’s mistakes be made again.

The school district is poised to tear down Del Mar Heights, a school older than the story itself.

In its place will rise a new school, with all the latest bells and whistles and a price-tag that will fit right in with the local property values. This should be a cause for celebration, particularly in a community that values education as much as we do in Del Mar.

Sadly, it is not.

The new school design takes into account everyone’s interest but the kids’. It offers ocean views, high ceilings, and a new avenue along the length of campus.

The kids’ playing field, in sharp contrast, is slashed. Too small to fit little league games, it will be an unrealistically tight fit for six grades of kids at recess.

School advocates assert this is a small price to pay for parents’ driving convenience and improved parking.

How harmful will this new paved avenue on campus and its idling traffic jam of parents be to the kids’ air quality? We won’t know — the school board and the developers decided not to do an environmental assessment. Perhaps they were afraid of what they might learn.

Given the budget that the community had gladly given them, they could have come up with a rebuild that did not trade a kids’ playing space for parking. Instead they gave us a fancy campus with a nice new paved road and precious little room for our kids to play — and a lot of community acrimony.

In a few years, of course, this will all blow over. Del Mar Heights school will be shiny and new, for a while anyway. Neighbors will calm down, stop sticking signs on one another’s yards, and come to their senses. Parents will forget that Del Mar once hosted little league baseball, and kids will settle into a crowded playground unaware of how much better it could have been.

And maybe, after being dropped off on the brand new road built where the playground used to be, the kids at Del Mar Heights will read Dr. Seuss, unaware of how close to home he really is.

Garrett Anderson

Del Mar

Del Mar Heights School Alternate Plan – Sandpiper – April 2020

Over the last five months, many of you have watched or participated in the public interplay over the new Heights school design. There’s been outcry over the 50% field shrinkage. Big mistakes on field and green space measurements have been exposed, yet school district overstatement continues. Public questions about the blacktop silently shrinking 56% have gone unanswered. The new school will leave children with insufficient play areas, prioritizing expansion of the buildings by 28% for no projected growth in student population. 

DMUSD (Del Mar Union School District) board meetings have overflowed into the hallways with critics waiting to speak, and local concerns have poured out in published letters, news stories, and on hundreds of community yard signs. Play Outside Del Mar’s email updates have been opened 20,000 times, by people hopeful that our community can save the field of dreams for the kids of today and tomorrow.

In January, with frustration peaking over district intransigence, a citizen spent several hundred hours crafting an alternative plan that would have saved 85% of the fields and 67% of the blacktop. It did so without any change to the new educational facilities being proposed by the district and without reduction of the expanded parking and traffic queue – by clever use of underutilized site acreage. Community members hired a top fire consultant to confirm improved building placement, emergency vehicle flow, and safer evacuation from wildfires.

There was hope for optimism when the district’s hired architect told us “it’s not done until it’s done,” and our elected trustees asked that the alternative plan be given serious consideration. 

The public then patiently waited for the district’s answer to be revealed at the February board meeting. Little did we know. 

We were just being played. The district had already finished its construction documents and had even met with the Division of the State Architect (DSA) to start review before the February board meeting. The DSA gives final approval to all California public school plans. We obtained the plans – 319 pages dated February 11, 13, and 28 – by public records request to the DSA. This happened under our noses while district leadership strung us along.

It’s galling that DMUSD staff told the public in January the next steps would be release of environmental documents for public review and comment on the impact on public resources such as community recreational space, wildfire risk, and traffic impact in the surrounding neighborhoods. The California environmental law (CEQA) instructs public agencies to avoid “taking actions” or “giving impetus” to a project in a manner that would “limit the choice of alternatives . . . before completion of CEQA compliance.” With a plan already formulated to the nails and studs and discussions with DSA underway, the district has turned a blind eye to California’s signature public protection law.

On April 14, the board of trustees will vote on the site plan and environmental review. It’s a legally required public vote. But don’t kid yourself into thinking there’s doubt as to the outcome. Citizens deserve better for a $55M publicly funded project.

John Gartman

Play Outside Del Mar

Lost opportunity at DMUSD board meeting – Del Mar Times, March 5, 2020

What happened at last week’s board meeting should tell you a lot about Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) trustees and leadership.

Twenty minutes into the meeting, after an earlier closed session, a trustee read from a prepared statement about an accusatory letter the district had received from lawyers, apparently on behalf of a client that preferred to remain anonymous, as is their right. Reading carefully crafted words at a carefully rehearsed pace, the trustee strung together a story that made it sound – not once, but twice – like Play Outside Del Mar had orchestrated all of it.

A lawyer himself, the trustee continued with how the district had none of the “nefarious intention” stated in the accusatory letter and had done none of the “secret” things alleged. Nonetheless, he said he’d personally rather scrap the entire $55 million school rebuild than spend “tons of money” in litigation. The other trustees sat silent, in apparent agreement.

Later on in the meeting, there was a call from the board for district staff to hunt down the lawyer’s client.

The evidence behind such a personal and public attack on me? Not a shred.

What a lost opportunity. We all came to the meeting to talk and hear about Rolf Silbert’s incredible Community Design #2, and the district buried it as a footnote in exchange for initiating a witch hunt.

If someone felt they had to send an anonymous letter to the district to escape retribution, retaliation, and outright public bullying by the district, then I’d say they nailed it. That’s sad, that some feel they have to go underground to criticize the district or hold them accountable.

By the way, later on in the meeting the district planner admitted there wasn’t even a threat of litigation in the letters. Why didn’t the district just post the letters on their website or pass them out at the meeting so the truth was revealed? Any member of the public has a legal right to them under the California Public Records Act.

I am working to get the right school built. Rolf’s design #2 is safer than the district’s plan for students, teachers, and staff – for canyon wildfires, traffic crossing, and air quality. It fully adopts the district’s facilities, preserves 80% of today’s fields, doubles the proposed blacktop, and increases “green space” by 25,000 square feet, 60,0000 more than the district design.

As the founder of Play Outside Del Mar, I have and will continue to stay true to our mission, without fear of the district or public retribution instigated by the district. Make no bones about it, I’ll advocate for Del Mar’s outdoor recreational play spaces for the kids of today and tomorrow with community service, honesty, and transparency as my guiding principles.

John Gartman

Play Outside Del Mar

Heights’ Elementary School Rebuild – Better Solutions Emerge – SandPiper – February 2020

Newsflash – Del Mar Heights Elementary School Rebuild – two important developments.

First, community member Rolf Silbert (who happens to be a design engineer par excellence) said “enough is enough,” by unveiling a promising and thoughtful school site design alternative at the January district board meeting.  Rolf’s design preserves 80% of the historical community playfields (130,000 square feet) without altering the district’s new school facilities design or educational program in any way.  While Rolf’s work may not be the full answer yet, it does show that with continued focus, creativity and collaboration, better answers are out there – answers that better serve the teachers, students, and our Greater Del Mar community.

Rolf’s design not only saves most of our historical fields, but leverages exiting community infrastructure and improves site safety from a traffic, emergency, and fire perspective.  It’s clear Rolf put hundreds of hours of sweat into his design, evidence of great community spirit.  To learn more about the thinking behind the design and to see it in pictures, see the front page of our website at playoutsidedelmar.org.  The board promised the district would take a look at Rolf’s new design, and we look forward to hearing from them at the February 26th meeting.

Second, the district itself unveiled a new design that moved in a positive direction.  By removing unneeded space between buildings, the district’s latest design increases the fields (from their December design) from 59,000 square feet to 78,000 square feet (which they overstate as 92,000 by including hard walk-paths, garden, etc.).  It’s definitely a step in the right direction, and we were encouraged to see some movement after months of pushback from current Heights’ parents and the community.

Today, we have just over 300,000 square feet of outdoor grass play fields in Greater Del Mar – the Heights (160,000), the Hills (110,000) and Shores Park (50,000).  The 52,000 square foot difference between Rolf’s design and the district’s design is significant and needed.  Let’s also not forget that the Department of Education says a school the size of Del Mar Heights needs a field of 140,000 square feet.  Rolf’s design gets the school closer to meeting the minimum field size requirement.  For further perspective, the proposed school buildings are almost double the minimum Department of Education requirement per pupil.

Let’s continue to work to save the play area – for the children of today and tomorrow.

John Gartman, Play Outside Del Mar

Build the Right School for Del Mar’s Children – Sandpiper – January 2020

Is Del Mar Union School District’s (DMUSD’s) current rebuild design for Del Mar Heights Elementary School the only one that can keep our children safe? The only design that enables a great education? The only one that provides parking for the teachers? Of course not. The supporters of the proposed design insist that those of us trying to save the school field don’t care about the safety and education of our children. They also assert that we only care about the views (though 99% of us have zero impact from the views). As a mom to two current Del Mar Heights students, that reasoning is both offensive and not true. What we care about is building the right school for Del Mar’s children.

November 20 School Design Shrinks Outdoor Play 60%

Finalizing the design plans during the summer, behind closed doors, has created a deeply flawed and divisive process. In September the community was presented with, in effect, a done deal, and every suggestion to preserve more field space since, has been methodically shut down. Over and over we have been presented with selective details obviously orchestrated to support the proposed design and to refute the possibility of change.

This design prioritizes parking; prioritizes traffic queue; prioritizes single stories; prioritizes small, outdoor learning spaces; and prioritizes centralizing the campus. Some of the educational concepts sound wonderful, but they come at a huge cost – more than half of the school field and more than half of the blacktop. The outdoor play area falls dismally short of California Department of Education minimum requirements. This design gives lowest priority to what many children love most about going to school and what many experts believe to be a critical component of an elementary school education. It comes at the expense of a field that has promoted the health and well being of Del Mar’s children for generations.

Greta Thunberg is Time’s Person of the Year. Climate change is arguably the biggest issue our children will face. They are growing up in a time when environmental impact should be front and center in every decision we make. This design doesn’t even guarantee solar. A few trees will be planted to offset, basically, paving a whole new road around the campus. This design encourages parents to get in their cars and drive to school, when the world is focusing on ways to walk, bike and use mass transit like school buses. Our children will judge us for our lack of foresight, and they should.

Building Del Mar Heights School fast has become a higher priority than building the school right. This school is being built to meet the needs of our children for the next 50 years. We need to do better, even if that means a new design.

Nicole Pentheroudakis

Del Mar

Redesign the school, save the green space – Del Mar Times – January 9, 2020

The Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) fails to recognize that the decisions they make about the Del Mar Heights school design – and the repercussions — will echo through three generations of Del Mar residents. Long after the current administration, staff and Board of Governors have retired, our community will feel the lasting effects of this vanity project. Let’s be clear: the students will benefit from the school for exactly seven years. The community will lose the green space for 50 years, if not forever.

The district claims it is pushing the flawed design forward against the wishes of the community because of the rising cost of construction. They estimate that a one-year delay will cost approximately $2 million. There is a simple solution – redesign the school for 5-to-11 year-olds instead of college students. Create a design that showcases the best of our community, gives our children a safe and attractive campus, and maximizes the return on the investment of the community’s tax dollars.

When we look to Google and Apple campuses as our inspiration, we have lost sight of what elementary school students truly need. When we prioritize parking lots and sprawling buildings over green space, we have lost sight of what our residents need. And when we care more about how a school looks than the broader role it plays in our community, we have lost sight of our values.

Like many of my friends and neighbors, I would not have voted for Proposition MM – and raised my own taxes in the process – had I known that it would come at the cost of an irreplaceable community asset. Shame on taxpayers for writing a $186 million check and trusting that it would be spent wisely. And shame on DMUSD for abusing that trust.

Julie Reynolds

Del Mar

Del Mar Heights rebuild: Take the time to do this right – Del Mar Times – December 12, 2019

Open letter to the Del Mar Union School District Governing Board of Trustees:

I’m disturbed after reading the detailed letter written by John Gartman (”Heights’ school – it’s bad numbers,” Del Mar Times, Dec. 5). It infers either sloppy workmanship or planned deception (or both). Neither of which is an appropriate way to conduct business on a taxpayer funded $55 MM project.

This is specifically why I and others have repeatedly requested story poles to see exactly how the project physically lays out. I know from walking the field with a tape measure and using the baseball backstop and batting cage as “story poles,” the presented view simulations from the Mira Montana sidewalk are also materially inaccurate (like the field and green space calculations).

The bottom line is the process needs to be slowed down. We’re going so fast we can’t even get our numbers and renderings straight. Not to mention the community is not behind the current design. I regularly jog the streets of Del Mar Heights and no one is happy. Honestly, the only people that seem satisfied are employees of the district (logical to please one’s boss) and some current parents, especially in the lower grades, who would prefer to get their kids in a new school as quick as possible. I might also add that many current parents have told me specifically that they’re concerned about retaliation by teachers, principal, etc. if they speak up against the current design. Which is concerning, but I get it.

I completely agree with trustee Scott Wooden when he said at the last board meeting that he thought the Pacific Highlands Ranch new school should have been done before the Del Mar Heights rebuild. This is a complicated $55 MM taxpayer funded infill project that will outlive all of us and it needs to be done right with more consensus. Heck, you can’t even build an individually owned $500K house as fast we’re trying to force this school rebuild.

We all want a new school built, but there is a much better solution. I urge all of you (and I think we have a fiduciary responsibility) to take the time to do this right and help find an improved plan that the community can be excited about.

Wes Huggett

Del Mar Heights

Heights’ school – it’s bad numbers – Del Mar Times – December 5, 2019

Did you notice what we noticed in the Nov. 28 Del Mar Times? DMUSD admitted their field size numbers on the new Heights’ school have been wrong throughout the public process. Read on:

On Sept. 23, the district’s hired architect unveiled the field size as 79,221 square feet and the green space as 142,919 square feet at the community update meeting, which was met with public pushback.

On Oct. 23, the district reiterated 79,221 and 142,919 at their board meeting.

In late October, the district increased the field number to 83,783 square feet on their website – to try to show the field was equal to Ashley Falls (it’s not).

On Oct. 30, in front-page news at the Times, the district again showed the field as 79,221 and green space as 142,919.

On Nov.14, Play Outside Del Mar publicly challenged the district’s math – reporting a playing field size of 57,500 – a 60% reduction from the current fields.

On Nov. 20, at their next board meeting, the district removed all square footage numbers from the field size, reporting only a “9% increase.” Word spread quickly in the community that the field size had grown to 91,323 square feet! Even we thought progress had been made.

On Nov. 28, in front page news at the Times, the district architect said “field space increased by nine percent,” which the board president described as a “pretty impressive response to the community’s request” for change. In the article, the district said the field is now 76,020 – less than ever previously reported by the district, and certainly no increase – and the green space dropped a whopping 32,596 square feet to 110,393.

A careful examination will show that the district had to include some combination of a garden, bio-swales (water drainage channels), tree trunks, or perhaps even a granite pebble path encircling the field to stretch to their Nov. 28 number that is still smaller than what they’ve been telling the public since Sept. 23.

The Times posted the district’s computer rendering of the site on the front page – which we found disappointing because it is a serious exaggeration of the field, even the people are miniature. It only takes 5 minutes to overlay that image on a Google Earth satellite view of the school site and realize the fields shown extend into the Torrey Pines Reserve, well off school boundaries. There are other issues, but you get the point.

It saddens us to see the district engage in this type of campaign.

Build the School. Save the Fields.

John Gartman

Regarding the ‘Save Our Fields’ petition – Del Mar Times – November 14, 2019

As Del Mar Heights parents, my wife and I are writing to voice our concerns around the proposed rebuild of the Del Mar Heights School and how it will affect our open field space. We understand that the existing field space will be significantly reduced down to the size of a single soccer field.

Having raised two boys at the Heights, we can tell you that their experience would have been significantly different with a dramatically smaller field. The field is not only utilized during school hours for PE, classroom, and recess activities, but is also heavily used after hours by onsite day care, garden club, PTA social events, youth sport programs, and families engaging in free play. This field has become a central hub for all to enjoy and has become a vital natural resource for Del Mar Heights.

Our boys have been lucky enough to enjoy playing on the field during school hours with many fun programs such as running club, jog-a-thon, garden club, student-teacher softball games, and many more wonderful activities. They have also enjoyed the after school PTA social mixers such Harvest Fest, Dad’s Club Campout, and Countdown To Summer all of which take place on the open field area. Additionally, my boys played DMCV Sharks soccer, Del Mar Little league, and pickup games on the Heights field. All of these priceless experiences have helped shape them into well rounded individuals while building lasting friendships and bonds with all in our neighborhood and community.

In an era of internet, social media, and online gaming, it is difficult enough to get our youth outdoors and in the sunshine — reducing field space would make this even harder. We believe the reputation and success of our Del Mar Heights alumni speak to the successful formula of balanced outdoor activities and solid academics that the current campus layout provides. Bond measure MM was approved by voters for the rebuild of Del Mar Heights School, but it was never imagined that we’d lose our vital field space in the process.

We have heard commentary that we didn’t speak up soon enough. Upon review of the Session One presentation, field concerns were on the table at the first meeting, asking that field space for Little League be preserved. Additionally in Session One, the original goals of the community and the design are to “preserve the magic.” This goal has not been met as the proposed design shows little attempt for preservation but instead all about innovative research concepts rather than real-world/real-time Del Mar proven success. We are a community that works…help us work better. Ground has not been broken and a revision is possible if we stay willing to work together and find a compromise.

Rolf and Paz Silbert

Rebuild design must be adjusted – Del Mar Times – November 14, 2019

I am heartbroken by the proposed Heights school rebuild design, and if you care about smart design that protects much-needed open recreation spaces for children, you should be as well. A rebuild is certainly needed, but the current design must be adjusted. The design calls for paving over more than half of the field space and eliminates the majority of the basketball/blacktop area to prioritize excessive parking and a ballooned building footprint. There are simple design tweaks that should be made to preserve the field space and bring the community together in support of this project.

The reasons for adjusting the design are many. First, we know having this wide open field space has been part of the “magic” of the Heights for 60 years. It allows the kids to run free and uninhibited, clearing their minds to return to their classrooms. Second, kids will no longer get to play Little League baseball at the Heights because it has been established by the district that the field will be even too small for a Little League baseball field (the Heights currently has two baseball fields and Del Mar Little League has played there for 50 years). The design eliminates the possibility for 92014 kids to ever play Little League at Del Mar Heights again. Never have the independence of biking to their own game? Why would we, as a community, accept this when there are viable alternatives? Preserving the field and blacktop space is exceptionally important for the Heights because unlike every Carmel Valley school in our district, the Heights does not have public playing fields/parks directly adjacent to the school.

Lastly, the building square footage has grown well beyond the square footage initially stated was necessary. This is a significant problem because the additional square footage 1) is taking away from space that should be used for field and blacktop, 2) makes it more likely that the Hills school will be closed in the future, resulting in one Heights mega school for 92014 kids, and 3) is wasting limited measure MM funds that should be directed toward the Hills school so that it can be properly renovated, and thus result in Del Mar having two equally viable schools.

As property owners review their property tax bills, they are noticing the significant additional taxes being paid to upgrade the DMUSD schools. This rebuild is happening with property tax dollars, and the outcome will have a profound effect on the quality of our community. Please come to the DMUSD school board meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 5:45 p.m. We need your support! Visit http://www.playoutsidedelmar.org to learn more.

Katherine Holliday Sohn

An important lesson has been missed – Del Mar Times – November 14

My younger son has a cut out drawing of a blobfish with the world in its belly up on his wall that he made in school. He is quick to tell me that “no, dad, it is not a manatee,” that there may be only 400 blobfish in the world and that somebody should take care of the earth so that we do not run out of blobfish.

It seemed like a lesson well taught. What is not to like about sustainability and taking little steps to keep the earth healthy, by, say, preserving as much as possible of the outdoors so that kids can play on grass that is doing its best to soak up the CO2 that their parents release?

Apparently, the district and the school board missed that lesson. As much as they talk about happy kids spending recess getting grass stained knees out in the fresh air, it ranks a distant second to parking lots for adults.

Teaching is more than just giving lip service to good ideas and then telling children to maybe do something about it when they get older. If we move forward with the field reduction plan, we teach our children that what really matters is not grassy playgrounds for kids but parking lots for adults.

Sure, it will be a valuable life lesson: think twice before you believe what your teachers tell you. The kids will see the deal for what it is – “the school board had a chance to make a buck by consolidating some schools, and all it cost you was your and your community’s little field.” Even they will figure out that there is money involved, and that it is not going toward any of the things that the school claims to stand for. Rather, they will see that, when it comes down to it, the school board is putting its interests in front of theirs.

Sure, there is probably money involved. I don’t blame the school district for trying to make a quick buck, but the kids and the community are watching, and the whole “trade field for cement” deal looks more than a little unseemly.

Schools are about teaching. This plan teaches kids that a playing field isn’t that important compared to, say, cars or sprawling buildings. They will learn that nobody is taking care of one of the only fields left in Del Mar. And they will see with their own eyes that we are running out of playing fields at Del Mar Heights even faster than we are running out of blobfish.

Garrett Anderson

Plan fails to respect school community’s open space – Del Mar Times – November 7, 2019

Sunshine breaks. Snack shack runs. The highlights of the day. The teachers and staff at Del Mar Heights have long been onto something smart.

When our family first moved to town five years ago, we were delightfully surprised by the Heights’ progressive approach to education. On any given day, our children came home with stories of early morning perimeter runs or Thursday mileage club. In the grand tradition of Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, you walk to think. You soak in the outdoors and the sunshine.

Now, one of our most valuable education and community resources is under threat. Del Mar Union School District has selected a design for Del Mar Heights that decreased usable open space by over 50% while increasing parking and circulation by over 50%. This tradeoff does not reflect our community’s values. We know the value of outdoor space historically, intuitively, and now scientifically. Here, in the United States, we have the grand traditions of Frederick Law Olmsted (“the occasional contemplation of natural scenes of an impressive character… is favorable to the health and vigor of men and especially to the health and vigor of their intellect.”) and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Today, hospitals are witnessing patients heal faster with access to nature. Experts from Scandinavia to Japan are prescribing “forest bathing” to restore mental wellbeing. Swedish physician Matilda van den Bosch discovered that students’ heart rates returned to normal more quickly after stressful math tasks after just 15 minutes with nature. From England to the Netherlands to Canada, researchers are confirming the direct link between exposure to nature and overall well-being.

Yet, we still have what Richard Louv terms “nature deficit disorder.”

In Del Mar, west of the 5, our school parks are critical to our overall wellbeing. Not only do they serve students in their attention and retention but they also provide important community space. We have a dearth of communal open space here. Unlike schools east of the 5, we do not have schools attached to expansive public parks. These fields and blacktops are everything. They are the places where friendships are forged, relationships are formed, and neighbors meet. The basketball courts (courts, plural) are well-used. Children laugh and learn how to have fun (without a screen) playing gaga ball, handball, and foursquare. This is good, healthy fun that grows a generation.

DMUSD has run a rushed process. The result is a plan that fails to respect our community’s valuable open space. The proposed school is oversized and overbudgeted and contains less open space than other community schools. The architects have previously presented a conceptual plan with significantly more open space. The selected plan is not our only option.

Nicole Forrest

Saving the playing fields is vital – Del Mar Times – November 7, 2019

Del Mar Union School District leaders have ignored legitimate citizen concerns about eliminating our playing fields at Del Mar Heights school. The school district board granted community access to those fields in 1970 – today DMUSD leadership campaigns that patches of grass and a drastically smaller field, to which only students will be guaranteed access, are fair substitutes for the entire community. There are simple changes to the current design that would preserve much of our playing fields. Making those changes, and guaranteeing public access outside school hours, would unite our community in support of this project.

Saving the playing fields is vital because the Del Mar Heights community is woefully short on recreational play space – 15.3 acres short according to the Torrey Pines Community Plan. While we have glorious open space for hiking and enjoying nature, in the areas of Del Mar that are under the jurisdiction of San Diego, we have zero recreational play space or parks. This is due to past leaders of San Diego not requiring developers to give us parks. Instead, we were told to adopt the Heights and the Hills as our community parks. What has worked for the last 50 years is now under threat, as the district seeks to pave those fields for an overly large parking lot and ballooned footprint school for the same number of students. Once the large fields are gone we can never get them back, and the story doesn’t end there.

While Holly McClurg declared Del Mar Hills Academy would not close, the writing is on the wall. When the new school is built at Pacific Highlands Ranch, the district will have 500 empty seats according to their own forecasts. If a future school board needs to dispose of the Hills, will the City of San Diego step up and purchase it for recreational play space, or will the Del Mar community lose those fields to development?

The Heights school rebuild – with no change in student population – is costing our community something beyond monetary value. Heights school children will be left with a field that the district asserts is “adequate” for P.E., and the public will go from having three and a half acres of wide open playing fields to only guaranteed access to a mere four-tenths of an acre of space with a toddler playground outside school gates.

Standing alone, the parks in the City of Del Mar proper cannot adequately serve the greater Del Mar Community. Mayor Faulkner and Council member Barbara Bry must work with DMUSD to preserve our playing fields at the Heights and the Hills and make public access to those fields guaranteed, by reaching a binding joint-use agreement before it is too late.

Jill Gartman

Del Mar Heights School—please explain – Del Mar Times – October 31, 2019

I attended the school board meeting last week. A group of us wanted to speak about not reducing the Del Mar Heights field size and maintaining our beautiful view of the ocean and park. I was disappointed, but not surprised to find our topic to be the last one on a very long agenda. I, like many others at the meeting, couldn’t make it the three hours to get to the topic we were all clambering to address, and perhaps that was their plan all along. Make the meeting so long that they wouldn’t have to listen to neighbors concerned about a large construction project in their neighborhood.

Why do they need to build such a large campus? Much larger than they need for the current student population? Are they expanding the parking and school to make space for the Del Mar Hills teachers? Will they try yet again to close Del Mar Hills School and move them over to the Heights? How is that going to impact the neighborhood?

Del Mar Heights school has always been one of the most amazing places to gather for kids and neighbors. After all it is both a school and our only neighborhood field park.

During the school year and over the summer they have wonderful events for Del Mar Heights families. They have big screen movies, camping, ice cream socials, and bounce houses, fundraisers, and all kinds out outdoor events. Will these events end?

We all hear about childhood obesity increasing. Shouldn’t we be increasing our play area? Encourage exercise? Have PE every day? How does reducing outdoor play area emphasize the importance of exercise?

I just don’t get it? Someone please explain …

Christine Springer

Del Mar Heights School rebuild—Save the field – Del Mar Times – October 31, 2019

As an active participant in the Del Mar Heights School Rebuild process, I feel it can be better executed to reach a more optimal solution, especially for the kids!

First, the notification process has been lacking. Normally on a project of this massive scale, one would at a minimum, expect signs to be posted. So, unless one had kids enrolled in the school or was actively searching, they had no idea meetings were taking place. Furthermore, quite honestly, most never anticipated the district would eliminate 60% of the wide open recreational green field space!

Second, the input to Save the Field has been frankly, ignored and discarded. I’ve personally attended every meeting (between running 3 kids to activities) and field space and sidewalk views were passionately brought up by several people. In addition, letters were written to the district and architect. So, what happened? The field actually got smaller and the buildings grew larger! So, the project went from 53,000 sq. ft. currently, to 60,000 sq. ft., then to 65,000 sq.ft., and now 69,000 sq. ft!. Plus excess parking and routing space. All for the same amount of kids!

It is also important to note that the school is not being built in a growing suburb where there is open land. It is being built in a 55-year-old established community that lacks wide open fields and is on the sensitive habitat of the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. As a comparison, the 65-year Cardiff Elementary School (similar neighborhood) is being built for a maximum 440 students, roughly the same as Del Mar Height’s 450-500 students. Yet, their building space (all single story) is 45,000 sq. ft. which is 35% less than proposed for Del Mar Heights and with 60% less parking.

The core traffic issue is that every single car must pass the corner of Mercado and Cordero. Paving the field and routing the cars to what is currently home plate, doesn’t solve traffic congestion and adds commute time. I know at least two homeowners at the Mercado and Cordero pinch point corner (which is the heart of the school traffic) who would prioritize the field space. The real traffic solution is to have a community discussion about creative transportation!

We all want a beautiful, innovative new school that provides a wonderful learning environment, but it can be accomplished in a more balanced way that gives kids the freedom to run! Let’s do what’s right and save the field for our children and future generations!

Kelley Huggett

Del Mar Heights

Del Mar School field needs to be kept intact – Del Mar Times – October 17, 2019

When the community voted “yes” to approve Bond MM, it was voting to rebuild Del Mar Heights Elementary School. No one in the community dreamed that the school district would take the bond money that was given to them and eliminate a majority of the school field; open recreational space that is scarce in this community and that can never be replaced. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

The district rendering is misleading as it shows the proposed green space is only 5% less than that of the existing school. Their numbers include anything that is “green,” not open field. The school district’s definition of “Existing Green Space” does not include the square footage of the current baseball and kickball fields. In fact, the proposed plan actually eliminates the baseball field, which has been used by this community for generations. Their “Proposed Green Space” numbers do, however, include the square footage of a planned amphitheater, perimeter grass, and a large green lot (large enough to currently house the entire kindergarten and kindergarten playground) that will be unusable by future students because it lies outside the fenced campus.

If the school district tries, again, to close Del Mar Hills Elementary School, the student capacity at the Heights will increase significantly. That would leave the community with one, small field at a Del Mar Heights “mega school.” That is all that will be left for future generations.

These kids are 5-12 years old and they need room to run and engage in free play in order to be able to sit in a classroom and learn. That is not possible in an “amphitheater” or some random green areas around the perimeter. The community needs a new school that will help teachers to provide an exceptional educational environment for our children. Upgrading buildings with collaborative spaces and more light is vital; but the field is just as essential to the children’s academic, social and physical growth. And it is just as essential to our community.

The Del Mar Union School District Board of Trustees and Superintendent Holly McClurg need to revisit the proposed school plans and find a way to provide both a wonderful new school facility and to keep the field intact. The projected cost for this rebuild is a staggering $42,000,000 with an additional almost $10,000,000 in soft costs. It’s not going to be rebuilt again for generations, so we need to do this right.

Please sign our petition. Go to change.org and search “Del Mar Heights Field” or go to http://chng.it/W7nhpDNp

Nicole Pentheroudakis

Del Mar