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Controversy around CCC Camp demolition


March 19, 2014
It's been more than a year since the demolition of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp and passions are still running high about the site's future.

While the Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District board of trustees is pushing for a sports field, preservation activists are demanding that a nod to the site's historical significance be included in the final project. The school district owns the property adjacent to Valley Center Elementary School on Cole Grade Road, but the CCC Interest Group has been vocal about the need to preserve the site throughout the process.

At the regular meeting of the school board on March 13, Jon Vick pleaded on behalf of the CCC Interest Group for a settlement to the litigation between the two groups.

"This wasting money is crazy, and there's going to be more wasted if we don't sit down and talk about a settlement," said Vick. "We've always been ready for the last year to talk with you. You have never opened the door for discussion."

Since construction was completed in 1933, the camp was occupied by the CCC, the California State Guard, and the California Department of Forestry. The school district bought the property in 2011. On March 18, 2013, the CCC buildings were abruptly demolished despite the pleas of the CCC Interest Group.

Aside from urging the board to arrive at a settlement, Vick also leveled allegations of deception toward the board and Superintendent Lou Obermeyer. He presented a series of emails between district administrators, Construction Testing & Engineering, and AAA Demolition, revealing plans for the camp's destruction more than a month before the board voted to clear the site.

"This does not smell good. It obviously looks like this was discussed before the meeting, and it's not fair to the public or the community," said Vick. "This is deception. This is the school destroying buildings, wanting to keep it out of the public view, wanting to keep it out of discussion."

Superintendent Obermeyer declined to comment because the issue is still in litigation.

Vick estimates that the district has incurred $710,000 on fees related to the site so far. However, that figure includes a $250,000 "lost opportunity" from ignoring an offer by a local philanthropist, Arie de Jong, to restore the buildings on behalf of the school, according to Vick.

The Valley Center Community Planning Group also submitted a letter with objections to the draft environmental impact report (EIR) for the sports field, including its failure to address the site's historic significance. A portion of the letter reads:

"These portions of the EIR are all fundamentally flawed, and skew all the analysis that follows. They neglect to deal with the CEQA-required 'Whole of the Project,' which includes the prior destruction of the historic buildings on the site, without any environmental analysis. It is easy to conclude there are no environmental impacts when you don't include destruction of the most important part of the project as part of the project."

The deadline for gathering input on the EIR for the field has passed and KLR planning will now proceed with more comprehensive plans for the site.

Concluding his presentation, Vick presented his own alternative site plans that include a memorial site in the corner of the field with a sculpture of CCC Camp men and a flag pole, an informational kiosk, and "two community buildings replicating the original structure."

Also at the board meeting, Satya Fleck was recognized as the Certificated Employee of the Month for March, and Luis Peña was recognized as the Classified Employee of the Month. Both employees at Valley Center High School, Fleck teaches English and Peña is the lead custodian.

Wendy Heredia, principal of Valley Center Elementary, was honored for her recent award as the Region 18 Principal of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators. Region 18 encompasses every school district in San Diego and Imperial counties.

"When you think about how many elementary schools are in each of these districts, it gives you an idea of how awesome this award is," said Obermeyer. "(Heredia) is a leader with a vision of excellence that permeates the culture of the school."

The board also formally approved the contract for Mary Gorsuch to become the district's next superintendent, effective July 1, 2014.

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