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  • Measure U Faces Permitting Uncertainty

    School district administrators eager for a slice of state funds to stretch Measure U dollars may be facing permitting issues that throw the additional funding into jeopardy. Carpinteria Unified School District is competing with other districts for matching state funds awarded on a first-come-first-served basis, but applications for City of Carpinteria permits have yet to be filed, a step that the city says is crucial and should have happened already.

    At its meeting on April 11, the school board heard lengthy reports on the financial and construction aspects of its major infrastructure overhaul being funded by the $90 million bond measure approved by voters in November of 2014. Administrators of the funds and designers of the school site upgrades have kept a careful watch on the permitting process underway with the Division of the State Architect.

    State matching funds for school upgrades could add $14 million to Measure U projects, but funding is closely tied to the permitting process. As time ticks off during the lengthy permitting process, projects from other districts could drain the well of available state funds. The City of Carpinteria and County of Santa Barbara (in the case of Summerland School) are oversight agencies for the CUSD projects because the schools fall into the Coastal Zone, and ultimately the California Coastal Commission gets final say on compliance to Local Coastal Plans.

    “I really think it’s important to stress to the city that if we lose state funding and matching money then we run the risk of not being able to complete all these projects. Essentially, it cheats the taxpayer out of a complete project,” said CUSD Board President Andy Sheaffer.

    Measure U Facilities Coordinator Cindy Abbott explained that the Master Plan for Measure U projects includes a wish list in excess of $90 million. District-wide upgrades were prioritized in accordance to funding as the plan was developed. Getting state matching funds for items like modernizing the wiring at all schools and building a new science wing at Carpinteria High School—two early phase projects entering the permit process—will stretch those dollars and make them available for improvements down the list that would not have been covered by the original $90 million.

    “This funding improves our ability to more fully realize our full plans for our campuses,” Abbott said. “We need to move through this as expeditiously as possible.” She said she’s “reasonably optimistic” that CUSD will get state funds.

    But according to the City of Carpinteria, CUSD has been well aware of its obligation to acquire a Development Plan and a Coastal Development Permit. In 1999, the district sought the required city permits for the middle school renovation/expansion and the high school stadium project, and in 2007 for the athletic facility rehabilitation at the middle school. Nevertheless, the district passed Resolution No. 17-799 in January 2017 claiming exemption from the city permitting process.

    The City of Carpinteria requested and received a letter from California Coastal Commission legal counsel making clear that CUSD must comply with all city zoning standards, including applying for a Coastal Development Permit. To date, the city has not received an application from CUSD for a Development Plan or a Coastal Development Permit.

    On April 18, when asked about the discrepancy between the city’s and CUSD’s interpretation of the required permits for Measure U projects, Abbott said, “They have legal counsel, we have legal counsel. But we can’t comment at this time.” Weniger added, “Right now, we are following the procedures.”

    In a phone conversation on April 19, Abbott said that CUSD would go through the city’s permitting process, but there is “a difference of opinion on what that looks like. It’s not a real clear-cut process.” Giving the example of a school district outside the Coastal Zone, Abbott pointed out that there is no “city process” in a place like Fresno. “It’s different here in the Coastal Zone,” she said, “and there are different viewpoints of what that means.”