National Parks Service OKs Cardiff school site boundary change

Status of Berkich Park has been subject of legal battle


The Cardiff Elementary School campus is shown under construction Sept. 17. (Photo by Roman S. Koenig)

Bella Ross

The National Parks Service has granted final approval to Cardiff School District for a boundary adjustment, a big win for the district that will allow it to proceed with construction plans approved by voters in 2016, according to a district news release.

The district’s plans for construction of a new Cardiff Elementary campus called for development atop the school’s playfields, an alteration that’s at odds with an agreement the district made in the late 1990s to preserve the land for community use. The California Office of Grants and Local Services approved a boundary adjustment to allow construction to continue on the playfields in November, but the district still needed approval from the National Parks Service to proceed, the district stated.

“We are thrilled to receive final OGALS/NPS approval, and we look forward to delivering a beautiful new school that has been promised to Cardiff voters since 2016,” Superintendent Jill Vinson said in the news release.

The decision came as a blow to the community group Save the Park and Build the School, which has been advocating against the district’s construction plans for upwards of a year. Advocates have long said the school’s prior land use agreements forbid the district from moving forward with its remodel, even filing a lawsuit saying the project was out of compliance and a waste of taxpayer funds.

In lieu of an interview with a Save the Park representative, the group stated in a news release that the National Park Service’s decision to approve the boundary adjustment is, in itself, against the rules.

“Save the Park and Build the School is surprised and disappointed with the decision by the National Park Service to approve the district’s proposed conversion of Berkich Park,” the group responded.

In a November ruling related to the case, the superior court decided the project’s environmental impact report was inadequate. Compliance with environmental law is required under the district’s old land use agreements, though Save the Park asserts the National Parks Service ignored this factor in its assessment.

The group also argues that the district did not exhaust all potential alternatives to converting the land. A Save the Park news release said, in court, district officials testified under oath that they did not consider alternatives to converting the public land, which would put them at odds with the National Parks Service’s own guidelines for approving boundary adjustments.

The district reached a settlement agreement with Save the Park and Build the School in February, although the National Parks Service’s latest decision could stir things up again.

Save the Park agreed to drop the lawsuit in exchange for a $500,000 payment from the district, which allowed the project to resume outside the grant boundary pending National Parks Service approval, according to the district’s news release.

“The February settlement agreement between Save the Park and the District contemplates challenges to actions taken by the NPS,” Save the Park stated. “Save the Park is currently evaluating its options.”

As a result of the litigation, the district said the school remodel will take longer than initially planned.

“Multiple classroom buildings that were originally planned have had to be tabled for the future, and the construction delay means students will not be able to occupy the new buildings at the start of the school year, as originally scheduled,” the district stated.

The Cardiff school remodel is now slated to be complete by the summer of 2021.

Bella Ross is a local freelance writer