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Opposition to School Site Surfaces

Hearing: Activists concerned about plans to build Soria elementary campus amid farmland will offer 29 alternatives to LAFCO.


OXNARD — Community members opposed to building schools on farmland say the school district has not considered all of the sites available for the Juan Lagunas Soria elementary school, now planned for a 14-acre field just east of the city.

A group of parents and activists will present their findings Wednesday to the Local Agency Formation Commission, which will decide whether to approve the city's request to annex the site. The property is west of Rice Avenue at the east end of Emerson Avenue and is surrounded by strawberry fields.

Opponents say they have found 29 alternate sites for Soria school. They presented the list to the school board last week, and will offer it to LAFCO on Wednesday.

The group's top choice for the Oxnard Elementary School District's new campus is a site next to Fremont Intermediate School on North M Street.

Although a school could be built there, Supt. Richard Duarte pointed out that the intermediate school already has 1,200 students and may need the space in coming years. In addition, building an elementary school there would mean eliminating park space, he said.

Most of the sites the committee identified, Duarte said, would not meet state standards because they are too close to power lines, railroad tracks, landfills or major roads. The Emerson site, which has already been approved by the school board and the City Council, is still the best choice for the Soria campus, he added.

George Shaw, a state Department of Education consultant who has been working with the school district, said it would be preferable if the Emerson site were within an existing neighborhood. "But . . . I think the school district is not going to go wrong if it builds there."

A few residents also argue that the site map the school district has been using in the planning process is inaccurate. They said the district used the map to incorrectly eliminate seven possible alternate sites because they are shown as being too close to the Oxnard Airport.

"These seven sites have been overlooked by this gross error," said Ted Cartee, a computer engineer who lost his bid for a school board seat last week.

Cartee, former trustee Jean Harris and attorney Fred Rosenmund said a more accurate map is one that was developed from a land-use plan for Oxnard Airport.

But Duarte said the school district's map comes from the state Department of Transportation and is accurate. Duarte said he is simply following the state's rules, and that placing a school too close to the airport could be risky. According to the Education Code, a school cannot be built within two miles of an airport runway without approval from the Department of Transportation.

"There is not going to be anywhere to hide if there is an accident," he said. "Why would the board approve a site that is going to be dangerous?"

LAFCO executive officer Everett Millais has recommended that the agency deny the annexation. Millais said he does not want a school built on farmland, especially when there are other sites within the city available. Millais also noted that he has received nearly 20 letters opposing the Emerson site.

The site has been a source of controversy for more than two years. Environmentalists oppose it because students may be exposed to pesticides from spraying at nearby strawberry fields. Farmers oppose it because it encroaches on agricultural land.

But school district officials, several parents and teachers support the Emerson site. They argue that the district needs to build schools quickly to ease overcrowding and accommodate growing enrollment.

The district is still awaiting approval from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which Duarte said is expected to show that the Emerson site is safe for students.

If LAFCO denies the annexation, Duarte said, the district will have to begin the process all over again. "It sets us back a couple of years," Duarte said. "And that's time that we do not have."

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The LAFCO meeting begins at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the supervisors' hearing room at the Ventura County Hall of Administration.

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