Tensions were high during a community meeting this week about the proposed Corona del Mar High School sports field project.
About 100 people packed into the CdMHS lecture hall on Monday for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s scoping meeting to discuss the recirculated Initial Study/Notice of Preparation for the project.
People on both sides of the issue were passionate during the discussion, which at times turned into an argument between audience members.
The school district wants to work with the community to find a solution between the two opposing sides, said NMUSD Administrative Director of Facilities Support Services Tim Marsh.
“I’m (not saying) that we’re going to move forward with exactly what is shown in that document,” Marsh said. “That document is to start the planning phase enough so we can have these public conversations and talk about the impacts and go through the process.”
As part of the process, the district will have to prepare an Environmental Impact Report, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act, which is meant to evaluate the potential environmental consequences associated with the construction and operation of the project.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Dwayne Mears, Principal with PlaceWorks, the district’s consultant that prepared the Initial Study.
In response to concerns from the community, they have made several changes to the NOP/study, he explained.
“(We’re) trying to make sure that we understand the community,” Mears said.
They made corrections, clarifications, added data and topics of study to the EIR scope, and are recirculating the NOP/Initial Study for 60 days. The study will be available for review and comment until May 23.
It will be several months before the draft EIR, Mears explained, which then gets a 45-day public review period. After collecting more feedback, the final EIR will be released. The board will make the final decision, he said.
Superintendent Fred Navarro previously noted that the board is allowed to make changes after the report is completed. The findings from CEQA could be anything, but that doesn’t dictate the school board’s final actions.
Although he couldn’t give an exact timeframe, Marsh confirmed that there should be some kind of resolution by the end of the year.
Proposed upgrades to the field include the replacement and reconfiguration of existing natural-turf field and synthetic track with synthetic-turf field and track, construction of 1,000-seat capacity bleachers, public address system, lighting and restrooms. The project is estimated to cost $11 million, paid for with one-time funds received by the state.
“We’re trying to get all of our sports back onto our campus,” and improve the safety on the field, Marsh explained in reply to a question about the reasoning for the project. “We’re (also) trying to standardize the quality of facilities across the district.”
Some of the concerns raised include that they mischaracterized the residential neighborhood, other uses/rental of the field, impact from lights and noise, increasing the already present problem of traffic and parking, and more.
People questioned whether they drove around or spent time in the neighborhood and really understood the character of the community.
A few residents commented that they are in favor of improving the field and providing better facilities for the students, but that the current plan didn’t consider their concerns.
Another speaker noted that the project team does not intend to conduct a study regarding the affect the project has on property values. CEQA looks at physical and environmental impacts, not social or economic issues, Mears replied.
“So property values, not that it’s not a valid concern…., is not a CEQA issue,” Mears said.
“At this point in time, we have not been given direction to do that,” added Marsh.
Residents are welcome to conduct a study and present it to the school board, Mears noted.
This is like any other neighbor remodeling their home, one supporter argued. It will improve property values, she said, causing a small uproar from the crowd. Some clapped in agreement with her, while others laughed and challenged the idea.
“I think it’s interesting that people who are outsiders and don’t live here are very eager to tell us what we should do and what we should think and how we should feel,” commented one local woman.
Noise and lights from varsity football games was a big concern for a number of local residents at the meeting.
Athletic Director Don Grable countered that while he understands the concerns from the neighbors, the maximum number of home football games would be five or six.
“We do not plan on having the majority of our football games here,” Grable said. “We would just like to have an option to maybe be able to do it.”
Most residents knew about the noise and the school when they moved in, a student commenter added, so it’s not really a valid argument. Another resident replied that he knew about the school and the field, but a stadium is completely different.
Several alternatives have been suggested, Mears noted. A few ideas include moving the field westerly and increasing the setbacks, portable bleachers only (no concession, bathrooms, etc.), reduced light pole height, smaller bleachers, no varsity games, alternate public address system, and more.
“We’re not going to select the alternatives until we’ve done the analysis,” Mears explained. “We’re going to look for alternatives that would minimize those impacts, but also be feasible and we need to achieve the basic objectives of the project.”
While he understands the concerns of the community, the improvements are needed and it realistically shouldn’t cause too much an impact. a CdM soccer coach noted.
“I think there is room for a conversation,” he said. “You have to look at it both ways.”
For more information, visit nmusd.us/cdmfield. Comments can be sent to [email protected] or Ara Zareczny, facilities analyst, 2985 Bear St., Building A, Costa Mesa, CA 92626.