A group of residents who live near filed a lawsuit against the late last week over its plans to rebuild the school’s campus.
Under the name Designers, Engineers, Constructors for Better, Safer Schools, four neighbors allege the district’s environmental review process for the $36 million project didn’t sufficiently address their concerns over issues like parking, traffic and the aesthetics of the proposed new campus.
In a July 14 filing (pdf attached at right) in Marin Superior Court, the neighbors asked the court to order the district to void its adoption of the environmental review documents and direct it to either revise those documents or to expand the scope of the review to an environmental impact report (EIR), a broader and more expensive process. The neighbors also asked the court to order the district to pay their attorney’ fees and all related expenses.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of last month in which their San Francisco-based attorney Kathryn Oehlschlager asked the board to halt the project for 60 days to allow for more dialogue between the parties. If not, she claimed, the project’s environmental review documents – an Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration – would be in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
New Mill Valley School District Superintendent Paul Johnson declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, which he said district officials are still reviewing.
“The environmental issues surrounding the Edna Maguire project, including those that these neighbors have raised, were discussed and presented in many public meetings, and were the subject of an exhaustive CEQA review process,” he said. “We feel that the environmental documents prepared for this project are sound and appropriate."
Before the board voted last month to approve the environmental documents, the district’s attorney in the CEQA process, Mark Kelley of Dannis Woliver Kelley in San Francisco, backed the district’s process to date.
“We don’t agree (with Oehlschlager) that this doesn’t meet the standard of a mitigated negative declaration,” he told the board at the time. “We feel that you have met the legal requirement.”
The neighbors disagree. In the petition, Oehlschlager, an associate at Barg Coffin Lewis & Trapp, claims the district’s environmental review fell short on several fronts, focusing heavily on issues around the analysis and mitigation for traffic circulation, traffic safety and parking.
The proposed configuration of the drop-off/pick-up area for cars will increase traffic in the neighborhood and “create a hazardous condition for pedestrians, bicyclists and cars due to the limited visibility at this location.”
The residents also allege the district didn’t properly study the impact of the project’s new multi-purpose room, which will hold up to 350 people. Although former superintendent Ken Benny said in June that the larger facility is simply intended to accommodate the school’s increasing enrollment, several residents have speculated that the district would rent it out to private events outside of school hours.
The residents objected to the aesthetics of the project, saying that the height and slopes of some buildings, particularly a two-story classroom building, would be higher than other structures in the area.
Lastly, the petition noted the district's environmental study found the presence of some serpentine rock in the ground beneath the project, and that serpentine rock potentially contains natural asbestos. The district replied that the bedrock underneath the site was encountered at depths between 20-35 feet below the surface and would not be disturbed during construction.
For each of the allegations in its petition, the residents claim that the district is deferring mitigation of those impacts indefinitely “by describing such proposed mitigation in terms of planning and coordination and not making such mitigation measures enforceable conditions of the project.”
The project, which expands the Edna Maguire campus from approximately 51,000 square feet of buildings to more than 78,000, is meant to both replace a 54-year-old campus and accommodate an increasing enrollment. It is part of the district-wide modernization plan, being paid for through Measure C, the $59.8 million bond measure approved by voters in November 2009.
The district’s plan calls for a that starts in the spring of 2012 and finishes the fall of 2013.