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By Royal Calkins
Raspy radio commentator Paul Harvey used to end each of his broadcasts the same way: “And now you know the rest of the story.” I’m likely to end this piece just like that. I’m also going to bury the lede. Sorry about that. You’ll have to read on.
This is about Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and its plan to expand and upgrade the Monterey High School stadium and other athletic facilities while adding lighting on 80-foot poles. It’s part of the spending covered by the district’s most recent $213 million bond issue and it would be an understatement to say the plan has been controversial.
The venture has considerable support, mostly from alums, but some neighbors vigorously object to the lighting while others in the district object to using the money for purposes not more directly related to education. They argue, with ample support, that the Measure I bond campaign emphasized — promised might be a better word — that the money would be used for repairs to classrooms and expansion of other educational facilities.
The district marched on through the debate and answered some of the critics by spending $30,000 to have an environmental consulting firm study the project and conclude that it would have no significant environmental impacts. Planners call that a negative declaration, meaning the district would not need to conduct a full-fledged environmental impact study.
Unfortunately for the project’s boosters, Voices discovered that the negative declaration had been prepared by EMC Planning, whose president is longtime Monterey High School baseball coach Mike Groves. While Groves is a standup fellow and works only part-time for the district, the conflict of interest seemed obvious. District Superintendent P.K. Diffenbaugh said the district’s lawyers saw it otherwise but the day after Voices raised the conflict question with him, he announced that an upcoming public hearing on the project would be postponed to allow officials to perform an additional study intended to ward off potential litigation. We wrote about that back then.
The weeks went by without any word on what might happen next. Lawyer Molly Erickson lives in the neighborhood and represents some of the affected neighborhood associations. She also specializes in enforcing environmental protection laws and fighting projects that attempt to skirt them. She has been trying for weeks to find out what would happen next without luck.
The silence ended with a report in the Monterey County Weekly on Monday in which Diffenbaugh announced that the district has decided to go ahead with a full environmental impact report. He told the newspaper that it would delay the project at least 10 months and cost $250,000.
“(W)e believe this is the right step to take and will help avoid litigation,” Diffenbaugh said in the Weekly piece.
Left unreported by the Weekly was information that might have provided some significant context — the part about EMC Planning and the coach.
Sara Rubin, the earnest and hardworking Weekly editor, said the information about EMC and the apparent conflict wasn’t mentioned in her article because she had not had a chance to research the issue.
“It’s a worthy story,” she said by email. “After I ship this week’s issue to the printer, which I’m behind schedule on, I can follow up. My columnist and my K-12 reporter are both on vacation right now and I simply didn’t have time/ability to do so. But I imagine it’s far from over, they’ll need to select a firm for the EIR.”
Erickson said the district should have known from the beginning that a full EIR would be required.
“The school district has been trying to dodge its obligations from the beginning,” she said, also by email. The neighborhood clearly will be affected by tall lights along with additional noise and traffic issues, she said.
As for the cost of the EIR, Erickson said the district has not shared any detailed cost information.
“We do not know whether their estimate is accurate,” she wrote. “MPUSD also has not provided accurate and consistent information about the project; this information also would affect the EIR cost.”
And now you know the rest of the story.
Clarification: This story originally misstated the estimated cost of the delay.
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