A group of residents who live near are threatening to sue the over its , claiming that the environmental review process hasn’t sufficiently addressed their concerns over issues like parking, traffic and the aesthetics of the proposed new campus.
On behalf of seven Edna Maguire neighbors, San Francisco-based attorney Kathryn Oehlschlager asked the school board Wednesday night to halt the $28 million 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).
“We don’t think this document is ready yet,” said Oehlschlager, speaking on behalf Todd and Ann Gates, Jim and Alicia Halloran, Meg Pasquel, Dan Vangelos and Larry French. “To approve this document under CEQA is a violation of the law. That could subject the district to a lawsuit. If you approve the project that is the only venue we have for redress.”
The board later voted unanimously to approve the environmental documents.
Oehlschlager, an associate at Barg Coffin Lewis & Trapp, declined to comment after the meeting about the residents’ next step, citing attorney-client privilege. She did not return a call for comment Thursday.
The public input period on the CEQA documents closed June 6. During that time, the district received 14 comments, most of which were from the neighbors represented by Oehlschlager, who sent the district a letter warning of possible legal action from neighbors (see letter at right).
There were other comments from Scott Valley residents who were also concerned about traffic, particularly from Edna Maguire parents seeking to avoid the backup on Lomita Drive by going through their neighborhood.
Several residents also voices issues with the project’s larger multi-purpose room, which will accommodate up to 350 people. Several attendees questioned the district’s intentions in possibly renting it out for events outside of school hours.
Outgoing Superintendent Ken Benny said the primary purpose of increasing the size of the auditorium was to address the school’s needs as enrollment continues to rise.
“We can ensure our community that we are primarily trying to answer a need within our community,” Benny said.
Oehlschlager also noted the district's 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.
Traffic and parking were the central themes of the dispute.
Meg Pasquel, who lives right on the corner of Lomita Drive across from the school, said traffic projection data from the district’s traffic consultant, David Parisi, did not reflect reality.
“I invite all of you to come and spend a morning standing on my corner,” she said. “Try to get out of my driveway so that I can be at work on time. It’s all very abstract here. But I would encourage you to come and see what it l looks like.”
“It sounds like there will be a lot of great improvements on property,” said Alicia Halloran, a resident of Lomita. “I would hope that this would be an opportunity to make things better. It’s been so bad for so long.”
“The neighborhood is absolutely for doing this project,” Larry French said. “We are not trying to be obstructionists in any way. We are hoping to engage in a frank, two-way dialogue which has been lacking up to now.”
The district’s plan calls for a that starts in the spring of 2012 and finishes the fall of 2013.
Before the board voted 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 Oeschlager) that this doesn’t meet the standard of a mitigated negative declaration,” he said. “We feel that you have met the legal requirement.”
Trustee Steve Sell asked how a 60-day delay would impact the cost of the project, which is being paid for through Measure C, the $59.8 million bond measure approved by voters in November 2009 to pay for facility upgrades across the district’s six schools.
“The farther you get into the design and the more detail you get through, the more you start impacting the actual cost of the project,” said consultant Pete Norgaard, who said the review process was about 80 percent complete. “So the cost goes up logarithmically.”