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District, Parents Press Escondido to Drop Lawsuit Against New School

Times Staff Writer

Escondido school district leaders and parents, upset that their children are jammed into crowded classrooms, are hoping to persuade city officials to drop a lawsuit against their plans to build an elementary school.

Supporters say the proposed school is needed to help relieve the crowding, but city officials say the school--planned for a site off Bear Valley Parkway--would solve one problem but create another: traffic jams on one of Escondido’s major arteries.

City Council members say that if the Escondido Union Elementary School District is determined to go ahead with its plans, it must pay its fair share--$600,000--to help upgrade Bear Valley Parkway so the thoroughfare can accommodate the expected traffic increase.

Want to Be Exempt

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But school officials have balked at the council’s suggestions, arguing that it is unfair to treat the nonprofit district as a developer. They it they should be exempt from such excessive public-improvement fees.

The council, however, responded by filing a lawsuit against the district last Wednesday in an attempt to block the construction.

Now district administrators and city officials are trying to reach a settlement without going to court. Several parents are expected to voice their displeasure about the city’s action at a council meeting today.

“The city claims that the school district is a developer, and, as a developer, they want us to pay a large sum of money for public facilities,” said Barry Baker, a school board trustee.

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“But we don’t consider ourselves as developers,” Baker said. “We are only building the school to accommodate the growth that has been allowed by the city.”

Councilman Jerry Harmon hopes a compromise can be reached, but insists that the proposed school’s adverse effects must be mitigated.

Health and Safety Concerns

“We do not oppose the building of a new school,” he said. “But the environmental impact report filed by the school district said that there would be no detrimental impact. The fact of the matter, however, is that there would be several health and safety concerns raised . . . primarily traffic problems.

“These can be corrected,” Harmon said. “It just requires capital investment. If we don’t put in these improvements, and if an accident does occur, we will be in a weakened condition if we were to be sued.”

City officials estimate it would cost $1.7 million to upgrade Bear Valley Parkway and nearby roads to handle the projected traffic increase and to make the area safe for pedestrians.

Harmon said the district should pay $600,000 for the improvements, which would include installation of traffic signals, sidewalks, curbs and the expansion of lanes from the parkway to the school site.

Gene Hartline, the school district’s assistant superintendent, said asking the school district to accept such a financial burden is unreasonable.

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The district is willing to pay for needed improvements that are “appropriate and attributable” to the proposed project, said Hartline, who defined such work according to standards set by the state allocation board, a group appointed by the governor that oversees the funding and appropriateness of school construction.

“They (the allocation board) will reimburse for street improvements that are immediately adjacent to and right in front of the project,” Hartline said. “In this case, Bear Valley Parkway is separated quite a ways from our project.”

Hartline said the district is willing to pay for about $50,000 for improvements on Las Palmas Avenue, which fronts the proposed site, and an adjacent access road.


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