The Cabrillo Unified School District has withdrawn its plans to complete a Half Moon Bay High School track and field renovation by the end of this summer. The decision comes after an appeal by a group of residents that alleged that Cabrillo was trying to skirt Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and that the project could adversely affect the community and environment.
The appeal was filed in May, shortly after the city of Half Moon Bay approved a coastal development permit exemption for the project. It was filed by Santa Cruz attorney Ryan Moroney on behalf of a group called Advocates for Open Government. In the appeal letter, Moroney refers to the group as “a recently formed community-based organization dedicated to ensuring compliance with open government and environmental laws in the city of Half Moon Bay.”
Moroney declined to say who was in the group, but indicated it includes neighbors of the high school and “broader based individuals.”
The appeal was filed because AFOG believes that Cabrillo has resisted regulatory review from the California Division of State Architect and is avoiding ADA compliance for existing track and field facilities. It also argues that the project should not have received a CDP or California Environmental Quality Act review exemption because it would leave a much bigger footprint than Cabrillo has indicated. That footprint, caused by access improvements, storm drainage and more, could threaten an environmentally sensitive habitat and affect the community due to noise caused by hosting track meets, Moroney writes on behalf of AFOG.
“You’ve got repair and replace, and you’ve got improvements,” Moroney said. “Development under the Coastal Act is triggered by something as minimal as a small deck expansion for individuals. Looking at this project, my impression is that it qualifies as development and needs a coastal permit.”
The appeal came after months of correspondence between Moroney and Dannis Woliver Kelley, the law firm that represents the school district, as well as letters sent to Cabrillo Superintendent Tony Roehrick. In the exchanges, Moroney expresses that he was retained by AFOG to ensure that the school district complies with public records requests as well as CEQA and the Coastal Act. He states that the group also has environmental concerns about a proposed agricultural barn and cell phone tower at the high school. Cabrillo’s legal representation contends that track and field plans “merely refurbish current improvements and replace improvements that were removed during the previous track modernization project,” and that Cabrillo is neither planning nor has funding for an agricultural lab, and that no new cell tower is planned, either.
Moroney also filed a petition with San Mateo County Superior Court last week, challenging the district’s decision that it was exempt from CEQA review. Cabrillo found it was exempt because the project would result in minor alterations of existing facilities and that the site would retain its purpose. In the notice of exemption, Cabrillo states that the project would include installation of a new synthetic turf, surfacing and marking of rubber track, installation of sports equipment and modifications to underground drainage.
On Monday, the day the project was slated to begin, Roehrick said Cabrillo would withdraw its request for CDP exemption and reject all bids so it could aim to start the project anew next summer. As a result, he understood that the city’s planning commission would no longer take up the appeal as scheduled.
“In essence, we’re withdrawing the project,” Roehrick said. “We’re going to have to go through a protracted process to satisfy all the claims that AFOG is presenting. We’re going to take the time to do all of that and hopefully move the project forward next year.”
Next year, Roehrick says the district will go through the full CDP process and go through a full DSA review.
“The city and school district believe the project is exempt; however, AFOG does not, and AFOG will go through all the appeal processes,” Roehrick said. “It’s our belief as a result of that process, either through litigation or ruling of the California Coastal Commission, that we would have a 50-50 chance to be required to then apply for a CDP, which would start the appeal process over again. Our thinking is we’re quite possibly going to be required to do a CDP at the middle of the process, so let’s just start there and rule out any extended delays.”
Cabrillo has not yet determined whether it will rescind its CEQA exemption. Since an exemption does not expire for five years, Cabrillo may go forward with the court case. A hearing could then occur in four to six months, Moroney said.
Roehrick says he disagrees with the complainants’ belief that the project constitutes an expansion of use, adding that Cabrillo is complying with all laws throughout the process. He said Cabrillo’s DSA certified inspector David Lussiers, its architect and attorneys advised the district that it was exempt from DSA review.
However, Cabrillo submitted its plans to DSA to verify that exemption at the end of May. That resulted in a June 9 visit from DSA engineers. Those engineers found a number of improvements previously constructed without DSA’s approval, as well as ADA compliance issues including wheelchair space, accessible parking and pathways.
“It validates our concerns that the school district wasn’t up to compliance,” Moroney said. “We see this as a pretty major project. If you’re going to implement it, you’ve got to bring all these things up to code.”
Roehrick said these ADA issues have been present for many years, and that the home bleachers have never been ADA accessible. He says the proposed track and field project does not involve the parts of campus with compliance issues, but that if DSA tells the district these issues have to be addressed, Cabrillo will comply. Doing so would “significantly expand the scope of the project,” Roehrick added.
Brian Ferguson, deputy director of the Department of General Services’ public affairs office, said the project is considered an alteration, for which approval for ADA and accessibility compliance is required. He added that normal maintenance includes changes to the electrical system, reroofing or painting.
“In the project submitted, the school district is making changes affecting the usability of the facility,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson added that Cabrillo “can come back as soon as they are ready with the plan review comments all taken care of.”
Half Moon Bay High School Cougar Boosters President Jim Drobnick said many people are upset that the project has been delayed. Boosters raised $35,000 to help fund the track and field improvements in addition to the $1 million in Measure S funds set aside to fund the project.
“The field desperately needs to be renovated,” Drobnick said. “It’s unfortunate our students don’t have the basic necessities they need to compete with their own peers at other schools. … The selfishness of very few who are unneighborly will have such an adverse effect on track and field for the high school, students and the community at large.”
Roehrick has heard similar disappointment.
“The coast was really looking forward to the opportunity to return those meets to Half Moon Bay High School,” he said. “It’s a significant disappointment within the track community and greater high school community.”