Piedmont Neighborhood News

What's happening in Piedmont, CA

Havens Rebuild: The Latest SNAFU

Posted by drewbendon on March 3, 2009

At last night’s City Council meeting it came to light that the counsel for the School District has advised the Superintendent that entering into an agreement under which the City would have control over the management of the new Havens Field will require the City to perform a CEQA review of the project.  Since the field is part of the larger project, none of the Havens rebuild could begin until that CEQA review is complete.

On the other hand, the Superintendent said that, despite the fact that the School District would be adding a 280,000 sf “sports” field where there was none before, that the School District could proceed with the project on its own because it is entitled to a “categorical exemption” from CEQA because they are purportedly just replacing the school.

Once again one has to wonder why this is coming to light so late in the project. But that’s not my main point.

One also has to wonder why they don’t proceed with the obvious solution which is to build the School and then once the field is built enter into further discussions with the City regarding the proposed use agreement, and the necessary CEQA review.

And no its not the money.  The City will pay $710,000 (of the total 1.2 mil. verbally committed) for the Schoolmates portion of the deal with the School District with the understanding that those funds wouldn’t be available to deliver to the School District until after June 2009, the beginning of the City’s next fiscal year.  It was also clear that the balance of the “obligation” from the City to the School District ($490,000) won’t be available until the fiscal year 2010-2011, so not until after June 2010.  And that this has always been the plan.

Since the District has always planned for the City money for the field to come in FY 2010-2011, why rush into a deal now?

And no, its not because the field will sit unused during the CEQA review.  The School District is obligated by the “Civic Center Act” (Cal. Ed. Code Sections 38130 – 38139) to make the field available for a variety of community uses including scout troups and sports leagues, so all it has to do is over the course of the next year before the field is built is to decide temporary use restrictions and uses until the transfer of management to the City can be completed.  And they could probably even do that by resolution appointing the City’s Recreation Commission as a temporary committee of the School Board for the purpose of taking testimony and making recommendations to the School Board regarding establishing use restrictions and priorities of use.

The State of California, for good reason, requires CEQA review of projects like this.  In truth this is not a “like for like” exchange with what exists at Havens now.  It is a brand new field (most likely with an artificial surface that allows 24-7-365 play) in a neighborhood that already hosts 4 PUSD schools and one pre-school 5 days a week, an adult school 7 days a week, commuter traffic for the bus and casual carpool, the bulk of City employees, tennis courts, the pool, etc.  The new field will add noise, parking, traffic, trash and other environmental concerns to the neighborhood.  The Havens neighborhood deserves a full and fair process to hear these concerns as the use restrictions and priority of uses are determined.  But we also support the Becker Plan and want the new school and field to be built.

Luckily for the School District a loophole exists that lets them build the project now and address CEQA later.  Seems like a no-brainer to me.

On the other hand, please let me be clear, this loophole should not be used to avoid doing the right thing.  Determining the proper scope of uses and priorities for this field should be done carefully and thoughtfully and with full consideration of the concerns and desires of the neighborhood, sports use groups, other use groups and the broader community.

Let me also offer this, since field space/use issues usually boil down to a battle between organized sports use and neighborhood concerns lets start with a facilitated open public meeting where any interested party can address his/her/its issues and concerns informally and directly to the others (with no time limits) in an environment that will permit an opportunity for a true dialogue and the potential for a consensus driven solution.

Drew

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