Jacob Ellis wants a new school building as much as any other student at South Pointe Middle School.
But he and 108 other students have made it clear that they do not want construction to harm a nearby canyon and the animals that live there.
Alarmed about a plan to dump dirt cleared from the future school site into adjacent Sandstone Canyon, the sixth-grade student circulated a petition among his classmates protesting the proposal.
“I had many pets and whenever they died I felt bad, so I don’t think I could live with knowing I had a chance to stop animals from being killed,” Jacob said.
But Diamond Bar Mayor Gary Werner said those concerns are already addressed in an alternate plan he has offered to the City Council, which would preserve the canyon but still allow school construction and other development to go forward.
Both proposals will be up for vote at a council meeting May 31, Werner said.
When a teacher told Jacob about the original plan to fill the canyon, he contacted Diamond Bar’s Mayor Pro Tem Clair Harmony and asked what he could do to stop it. Harmony, who suggested the youth write a letter, printed the petition that Jacob composed.
“As most of you know, South Pointe School is planning to push a large amount of dirt, sand and rocks into the natural habitat of hundreds of animals,” Jacob wrote. “Many people have been against it from the start, yet it is still going to happen. Now, if the city of Diamond Bar will not give the permits needed to push the sand, dirt and rocks into the ravine, that gives us--people who care about wildlife--time to take control and stop this from happening.”
The petition was signed by 108 of his 900 classmates, and Jacob presented the petition Monday night at a public hearing before the Diamond Bar City Council and Planning Commission.
“I think the animals need a place to live,” said sixth-grader Katrina Whitson. “I would want another school, but they should find another place to put the school.”
For five years, South Pointe has operated out of temporary buildings while the city, the school board, developers and environmentalists debated the fate of the school and the canyon.
The canyon is home to a dense stand of coast live oak as well as deer, rattlesnakes, the San Diego coast horned lizard and the California gnatcatcher, a rare songbird.
The original plan would level a ridge next to the existing school site, burying several hundred oak trees and filling the canyon with the dirt that is removed. The area would be divided among the new school, a park, and residential and commercial developments.
Werner’s alternative plan would preserve the canyon and use the dirt as landfill for a housing development southwest of the school.
Because not all homeowners within 500 feet of the proposed project were notified of the meeting, the council did not vote on the plans.
Jan Dabney, a developer participating in the project, said the current owners of the canyon property have agreed to the mayor’s plan.
Dabney said that although he commends the South Pointe students’ interest in the environment, Werner’s plan resolves issues they raised.
South Pointe Principal Marlene Ministeri said she hadn’t known about the petition when it was making the rounds and was concerned that the students who signed didn’t understand the issue thoroughly. She said plans to build the school have floundered for three years and the district is in danger of losing matching state funds for construction.
“I am in favor of any plan that will get the school built,” Ministeri said.