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Mount Soledad school gets green light on expansion plans

In an about-face, La Jolla Community Planning Association trustees voted 8-5-1 in favor a permit that will allow a school on Mount Soledad to double the number of students allowed on the shared campus and to add three portable classrooms.

It took two hours of debate about safety and traffic and two motions - with the first to deny the project defeated on an 8-4-2 vote - before the board could agree on the San Diego French American School’s request to modify its conditional use permit.

The school shares a leased 9-acre campus at 6550 Soledad Mountain Road with La Jolla Preschool Academy and the Montessori School of La Jolla. The site of a former San Diego city school had a permit that allowed a total 320 students on the property.

Marcela Escobar-Eck of Atlantis Group, representing the school, said they were not told that there was a cap on enrollment when they leased the property, which once house Decatur Elementary School. The schools now have 513 students, which they uncovered in their own audit.

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Eric Otterson, one of its trustees, said French American is “taking proactive steps to remedy” the overpopulation.

“The main issue people are concerned about seems to be traffic,” he said. “We’ve done our traffic plan and there are some mitigation measures we’re going to implement as part of this plan.”

Dan Courtney, a commercial Realtor, who made the initial motion to reject the school’s request said the school wasn’t the “victim” of lease terms. It is the responsibility of the lessee, not the landlord, to ensure it’s meeting all specified site conditions, he said.

Jim Fitzgerald, who made the motion that eventually won out, said the French school was an asset to the community and the community’s best interests would not be served by denying its request.

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David Little voted in favor of the school’s proposal saying, “They’ve been cooperative. If the school were removed, you would still have a traffic problem there.”

Ray Weiss, the sole CPA member who abstained from the final vote on the project said his major concern was the ongoing problem with dangerous U-turns made by parents transporting their children to school.

“That’s what needs to be mitigated,” he said.

Neighbors of the school site were on both sides of the debate.

Ara and Diego Miralles, who have a child enrolled at French American, noted it is an excellent school, rare in its international focus, and that it is a good neighbor willing to work with the community to resolve any problems.

Opposing the school’s expansion was James Pieria, who lives on Cardeno Drive. Piera contends the school’s traffic study fails to address possible impacts on Cardeno. “The key point in this study is like a bikini,” he said. “It’s not what it shows, but what it does not reveal.”