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Groups Fight to Save Schools From Developers

September 08, 1986|LEONARD BERNSTEIN | Times Staff Writer

Claiming that their former neighborhood school is being "held hostage" despite the settlement of a bitter lawsuit with the city school district, a Pacific Beach community group Sunday "rededicated" its attempt to block the conversion of the former Farnum Elementary School into a multiunit housing project.

Members of the Beach Coalition for Farnum tied yellow ribbons to trees and raked the grounds of the school site on Cass Street, one of two former school campuses at the heart of a long-standing feud between city residents and the San Diego Unified School District.

"We know that the (lawsuit) settlement gives us the tools to save the site," said Bob Glaser, the community group attorney who negotiated the settlement with the city school district in July. "Now we have to go ahead and save the site."

The school district last year accepted bids from developers to lease Farnum and the closed Dana Junior High School in Point Loma for 99 years each, moves that angered residents living around both schools. District officials say they have no other way of raising the millions of dollars needed to build new schools in heavily overcrowded parts of the city.

The Beach Coalition for Farnum and the Community Coalition for Dana, claiming that residents were not being consulted before the leases were offered, halted the plan by filing lawsuits last year. Separate out-of-court settlements reached last month now call for the district to hold public hearings and conduct environmental assessments before leasing the sites.

But that process will have to wait until a task force of three City Council members and two school board members has reviewed the Dana and Farnum sites and other surplus land owned by the school district in an effort to decide which parcels should be reserved for community use and which will be eligible for development. Their report probably will be ready next month, said school board member Larry Lester, a member of the panel.

Beach coalition members said Sunday they would accept the conversion of Farnum into a park, a community center or a library--anything but the 89 apartments now scheduled to be built where the school now stands in a neighborhood of neat single-family homes.

"This is not the site for 89 (apartments)," Glaser said. "The sewer system cannot support it. The road system cannot support it. The community in Pacific Beach has no ability to acquire more land. There is no way to buy a new school if we need it later."

The city is interested in acquiring Farnum for conversion into a park, said school board President Susan Davis, another member of the City Council-school board task force. But a final decision will not be made until the panel issues its report and holds a public hearing on its recommendations, she said.

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