Dunbar Lane area, near proposed school site. "Dunbar right now is 36 feet wide. Part of the new road that they plan to put in will only be 28 feet wide."
Lonnie Glasco shows off photos of a bevy of 18-wheelers and cars parked up and down his street, Dunbar Lane, in the East County community of Blossom Valley. Pictured also are vehicles strewn all over the hillside field immediately to the east of his home. The scene comes from the time Interstate 8 was shut down due to the Viejas fire in January 2001. It repeated itself with a vengeance during the recent Cedar fire.
Lonnie Glasco: "If there is not a secondary access put in for us to get out, you could get trapped in here sometime as well."
In the photo, a large truck with the hazardous materials placard on its side sits directly in front of Glasco's house, which is one of the first homes on Dunbar off the freeway. "We couldn't get out," he says, emphasizing that what happened that day is far from an isolated incident. On Labor Day weekend, it took only a small hillside fire on the opposite side of the freeway to cause the same kind of blockage. Every time a fire occurs in the area, or an accident on the freeway nearby, law enforcement diverts traffic onto Dunbar Lane, the local exit off the freeway. Similar events have occurred at least four or five times since Glasco and his wife built their house and moved into it three years ago.
Evelyn Provaznik heard that a bulldozer working on a nearby hill once dislodged a boulder that rolled down and smashed the contractor's truck.
A group of local residents had been trying to impress these facts onto the Cajon Valley Union School District when the Cedar fire stormed the area, burning 30 homes and other structures on Dunbar Lane. The district has plans to build a middle school next door to Glasco, on the site that his photo shows to be filled with vehicles waiting out the Viejas fire. Unlike that fire, the Cedar fire didn't spare the property, burning off its brush and reducing it to a blackened hillside studded with embedded boulders.
Now the Cajon Valley District is attempting to turn the logic of this warning on its head. According to the November 14 East County edition of the Union-Tribune, Wayne Oetken, assistant superintendent of business, is promising homeowners on Dunbar Lane that the cleared areas, fire-retardant materials, and parking lots of the new Los Coches Creek School, projected to open in fall 2006, will help protect the community should another fire approach. Also, says Oetken, seven fire hydrants planned for installation will allow the school to be "a major tank-up facility for fire crews."
But this tactic sidesteps the issue of any emergency access in and out of the area. "We're saying to the school," Glasco argues, "that if there is not a secondary access put in for us to get out, and you come in with all these kids, you could get trapped in here sometime as well." But the Cajon Valley district maintains the environmental impact report written for the middle-school project does not express a need for secondary access to the school site.
A maze of intersections sits at the base of Dunbar Lane closest to the north side of Interstate 8 and within several hundred feet of the proposed school. Bridon Road descends from the hill to the north before turning abruptly right into Dunbar. Not even a block south, Chocolate Summit Drive intersects it after dropping off an eastern hill. And directly across the street from this point, Old Highway 80 ends at Dunbar. Bridon, Chocolate Summit, and Dunbar all dead-end to the north. Old Highway 80 runs toward San Diego, but it is often closed, too, when emergencies occur on I-8, which runs parallel.
Students, parents, and visitors to the proposed school would approach it from the first leg of Dunbar Lane, which eventually jogs to the left, and then onto a new link to Bridon Road running along the school's western side. "They are saying that they're going to improve the road," says Glasco, "but all they're going to do is realign it. And they're not even widening the street. Dunbar right now is 36 feet wide. Part of the new road that they plan to put in, which isn't a through road, will only be 28 feet wide."
If built, the new school will sit on a plane where a gradual slope now leads to a hilltop. Cut-and-fill work will gash the hill on the school's east side, while on its west, new dirt will raise the level by 20 feet.
Evelyn Provaznik, president of the Dunbar Lane Task Force, cites the danger posed by boulders embedded in the earth higher up the hill. Even before the recent fires burned off ground cover around them, she says, "The environmental impact report stated that the boulders could become unstable in an earthquake or heavy rains. One of those boulders is 10 or 15 feet in diameter. To protect the school property and children, they're putting in a ditch and a berm with a chain link fence on top of it." Provaznik tells a story she heard that a bulldozer working on a nearby hill once dislodged a boulder that rolled down and smashed the contractor's truck. She wonders whether the school's precautions will be enough.
In the current plans for the school, a gate will allow buses to enter its southernmost grounds. And local residents can expect to see many buses, since estimations are that 60 percent of the school's eventual 1200 students will have to be bused in. That's because the Dunbar Lane site chosen by Cajon Valley lies at the eastern limit of its district, almost in Alpine.
District superintendent Janice Cook, who has been on the job a year, explains why her new colleagues chose a middle-school site so far from the center of their jurisdiction. First of all, she says, "It is a challenge to find any place to build a new school in the district. And then, the area around Dunbar Lane is growing."
At one time the district considered a flat area near the Map Center exit off westbound I-8 as the middle school's location. Behind the freeway and to the northwest, sprawling palatial estates are visible. They have been built to stand out: white stucco walls, entry posts, red tile roofs -- a few even have horse corrals.
According to Superintendent Cook, the school board rejected the Map Center site for three reasons. "Wetlands are on it," she says, "sewer access there is limited, and the land is too close to the freeway."
But Dick Gadler, former school-site planner for the district, maintains that Cook, whom he admires from her earlier work in the Grossmont School District, is wrong on all three counts. On the Map Center grounds, he says, "There are no wetlands as wetlands are defined by the Army Corps of Engineers. There is a stream running through the spot and some olive trees, and that's what the district must mean by wetlands."
Sewer lines at Map Center would be an easier problem to solve than at Dunbar Lane, according to Gadler, because, although they would have to run through an underpass to the other side of the freeway, the "rate of fall" there is greater than at Dunbar. And the Dunbar site, he says, is about as close to the freeway as the Map Center site.
Gadler thinks that putting the school at the far edge of the district rather than on a parcel of land that is even more suitable and closer to established communities defies common sense. He also argues that the project will contribute to ruining the view of scenic mountain areas.
Lonnie Glasco and his neighbors want to halt implementation of the middle school project at Dunbar Lane or at least force the Cajon Valley district to make the school's presence easier on local residents. As part of their effort, they acquired the help of Gadler through the Mountain Defense League, a loose association of activists to which Gadler belongs. They also hired attorney Julie Hamilton to halt the district's plans in court.
Hamilton maintains that the environmental impact report, which the district says justifies its actions, is defective. She says so in spite of an assertion by Christina Becker, the district's director of long-range planning, that 16 service agencies, including the local fire marshal, have signed off on the report. But Hamilton cites failures in the report, among other reasons, to address various problems, including how runoff from the new school will pollute water in the area and how raising the school 20 feet higher than neighboring properties will affect local residents. Most importantly, she says, the report does not adequately address the issue of traffic.
How are people going to get out of the area in case of a wildfire in the future? That is the question that most bothers Hamilton. "The district," she says, "is putting the new school on the primary choke point for people trying to leave the area." Becker, on the other hand, cites a statement by California fire marshal Brian Heyman in Sacramento. According to Becker, Heyman says that state law does not require schools and other public facilities to have more than one access.
Last year LSA Associates, Inc., representing the Cajon Valley district, solicited from the Grossmont Union High School District, in writing, answers to questions about the Dunbar Lane site. At one time the Grossmont district had considered, and then rejected, the same site for building a new high school. The sixth question from LSA reads: "Can you recommend any measures for mitigating project impacts that might be incorporated into the project?"
Grossmont's director of facilities planning, Thomas Silva, responded in a letter dated October 8, 2002. "The new middle school," he wrote in part, "will definitely add to the traffic already on Dunbar Lane, and congestion is very likely. Dunbar Lane should be widened to at least four (4) lanes and allow for two lanes of flow in both directions. It should also have enough room on the shoulder(s) for emergency access."
For a meeting of the Local Agency Formation Commission on August 4, 2003, however, LSA Associates prepared a long report with a section called "Project Significant Impacts," in which it stated, "The project will not create significant traffic or parking impacts."
In the meantime, the Cajon Valley Union School District used eminent domain to acquire the 80 acres of land it wants for the project. And local residents have dropped their lawsuit, in part because the district is charging them $20,000 (approximately $5 per page) to make copies of all the documents attorney Hamilton says she'd need for representation.
These days a detail about Santee's past pops into Lonnie Glasco's mind. "I watched on TV when Santana High School had that shooting over there," he says, "and all those people started to converge on the school. If something like that happened here, how would parents get in with only one access?"