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Minutes from that meeting state, "Discussion ended with [Smith's] explanation that the drop-dead date for finalized plans was January 2004, which means that any discussion and/or decision on the joint use field would have to be no later than November or December 2003."

Kiesling says his predecessor's statements never ruled out a joint-use ball field. "Tershia interpreted that to mean that if we get to that date, we are never going to have a joint-use field there. [Smith's] comment, in my view, was that if we get to that date and we haven't settled the joint-use issue, we are going to separate it and do two projects out of it. We are not going to hold the whole school up while we argue about the joint-use field."

Kiesling points out that the district-owned parcel is degraded. "What we are talking about," he says, "is just down at the very far end of the canyon, where it has been disturbed anyways."

A glance at the land along C Street confirms Kiesling's contention. Tons of fill dirt have been dumped on the plot. And tons more would be required to level the 17 percent grade into a playing field, plus a retaining wall would need to be built for the streambed. Kiesling refrained from discussing designs but says, "My civil engineer is looking at four possibilities: two different scenarios on the .8 acre that we own, and then two scenarios on a 2-acre parcel, assuming the city gives us theirs. And then he has kind of a hybrid plan [in which] we build ours first, and then the city comes around and gives us theirs sometime later, in which case we have plans ready and we build the second acre."

The ball-field plans, Kiesling says, would include access to the northern part of the canyon. And he warns that if the school district is unable to build the field, the likely alternative would be worse. "The last thing to note is," he adds, "the way the education code reads, if I condemn a piece of property and buy it from somebody, and then I don't need it, I have to offer it up to the people that I condemned it from first. And the reason that is important is that we bought that land from a group that was going to build an apartment building on it. So if Tershia wins out here and I can't build anything on that property for the school district, I am likely going to end up selling it back to this outfit that was going to put an apartment building on it, and it'll end up worse than if I developed it as a field."

D'Elgin responds, "We'll oppose anyone who tries to build in the canyon."

She sees the effort as something more than a Golden Hill issue. "Our fight has raised the awareness level about these little canyons," she boasts. "Now there is a save-the-canyons movement in San Diego."

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