continued Sandersfeld and others brought these concerns before the school board at several meetings. "It's been a long siege," she says. "It's not fun dealing with the school board. They purport to care about what the community wants, and at the same time they totally ignore everything we try to place in front of them. We've been going through this for a couple of years now.
"We made an appointment," Sandersfeld continues, "to go down and meet [city schools' chief of facilities] Lou Smith and to try to convince him that they should spare the highest side of the canyon, which they were going to fill in for a ball field. We proposed to him that they should consider acquiring more of those homes on the bottom of the canyon on the east side and put the ball field over there. He said he couldn't make any promises but that's something that they were considering. And so we felt really good, going away from that meeting, that there was going to be some sparing of the canyon. At the next design- committee meeting, the architects stood up and talked from the old plan. They had absolutely no idea there was an alternate plan even in consideration. We were just appalled. So they went back to the drawing board again, and the next time they came to the design-committee meetings, they actually had amended the plan. But they still wanted to underground the creek, and they still wanted to destroy a lot of the native plants, and we still didn't have any assurances that any mitigation efforts that would occur will happen in our canyon."
But, according to Tom Mitchell, director of public involvement for the school district, the neighbors' concerns have been addressed. The canyon site was selected, he said, to minimize the number of homes that the district would have to buy, "Because if we are not careful," he explains, "we could take, in that area alone, hundreds of homes.... So in the summer of 2001, we decided to take a plot of land that did take some open area, the area that a lot of people say is open space, but if you go to the city, you will see that it is zoned as residential; they never did declare it open space. That is what we looked at; we went to the board -- I believe it was in September 2001. And the board voted to put the school at this piece of property. There was quite a bit of discussion after that about the canyon, and we went through a number of meetings with the community. They expressed their concerns about taking that much canyon, and we did listen to their concerns."
The creek, Mitchell says, will not be "undergrounded." And more houses on the east side of the canyon are being acquired by the district so that less of the canyon will be used for the elementary school, as yet unnamed. "We ended up using a proposal from the community that took less canyon but, I think, 11 more homes. If you compare this most recent plan to the one first submitted in September of 2001, you'll see that we've swung the whole project around counterclockwise. The board of education obviously was lobbied very heavily by the proponents of not taking any canyon area. And each of the board members went out to the area, looked at it themselves, took a very careful look at it, and they came back and voted 5-0 unanimously -- which is hard to get at our board meetings -- to amend our plans that we had approved the year before: to change it, to take more homes, but less canyon.
"Our last meeting was January 23," Mitchell continues. "I will tell you, except for 2 people in that group of 30, that plan was pretty well accepted. Those two told us, 'We don't want you there.' Well, fine. But unfortunately, we need a school, and the problem is there is no vacant land just sitting around anywhere in Golden Hill that is big enough to do what we need to do and is in an area that we can use. [The canyon] is not the optimum for any use, but it's the best place that we have been able to find."