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Sweetwater Schools Chief Urges Ban on New Housing

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Times Staff Writer

With South Bay school overcrowding showing no signs of slowing, the superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District Friday proposed an indefinite moratorium on construction of single- and multifamily homes in San Diego’s southernmost communities.

If the district’s board of education approves the proposal Thursday, as expected, the moratorium request will be sent to the San Diego City Council for action, said Supt. Anthony Trujillo.

The proposal is a last-ditch effort by the school district to slow growth that is straining four of the district’s 17 schools--Montgomery Junior High School, Montgomery High School, Southwest Junior High School and Southwest High School. Students from the section of San Diego located south of Chula Vista and north of the border attend the Sweetwater district.

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“We have reached the saturation point,” said Andrew Campbell, administrator of planning and business services for the school district. “And it’s my understanding that South Bay and San Ysidro (school districts) have reached the same point. We have reached the point where it’s difficult to handle any more people.”

“What we’ve had is unbelievable foot-dragging in trying to resolve the many issues,” Trujillo said. “We’ve gone every which way and it’s time we get (the City Council’s) attention that we’re serious on this.”

Trujillo said he is taking the proposal to the school board because an April 2 letter to Councilman Uvaldo Martinez brought no response. Neither Martinez nor his aides returned a phone call to his office Friday.

Trujillo’s plan, which he said has the support of South Bay Union Elementary School District, the San Ysidro Elementary School District and the San Ysidro Town Council, calls for a moratorium on building permits for the area until a “master plan” for the area’s development is written.

It includes the area of the City of San Diego that is bounded by Chula Vista on the north, Otay Mesa on the east, the Mexican border on the south and Imperial Beach on the west. But its true focus, he acknowledged, is San Ysidro, where the rapid construction of low-income, multifamily homes threatens to turn the border community into a “ghetto.”

“What’s happening is that they’re building apartment after apartment, very high-density stuff, with no way those apartments could pay for the kind of schools we’re going to need,” Trujillo said.

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Forecasts by the San Diego Assn. of Governments show that there will be 25,301 units of multifamily housing in the South Bay by the year 2000, up from 8,370 in 1980. Single-family homes will increase to 24,770 from 15,150 in 1980, the projections show.

School district projections show that Southwest High School will next year hold 521 students more than its capacity, even with the addition of portable classrooms and trailer classrooms. Montgomery High School will hold 430 more than its capacity.

Other county and state high schools are in equally bad shape, but Sweetwater district officials said they are worried that unexpandable facilities--such as cafeterias, locker rooms, and libraries--are overtaxed.

“You can always add more classrooms. What happens is that your core facilities become very inadequate,” Trujillo said.

The district is also considering other measures, such as a year-round school schedule, to relieve overcrowding, but they will not solve the problem alone, Campbell said.

Robert Morris, executive vice-president of the Building Industry Assn. of San Diego County, said his group will fight the proposal.

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Morris argued that moratoriums only drive up the price of homes by delaying their construction while denying the school district the fees assessed for each unit built.

“What are they going to solve by putting on a moratorium?” Morris asked. “If the problem is funding, they’re not going to help anything by putting on a moratorium.”

Morris questioned how the district is spending those fees, which he said are $2,200 for a single-family home and $1,800 on multifamily units. And according to Kim Kilkenny of the Construction Industry Federation, a proposal to add $1,500 per unit is pending before the council.

But Trujillo said that “loopholes” in ordinances have prevented the district from collecting all the fees owed.

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