Published Feb. 2, 2023
BY RILEY PALSHAW
In the aftermath of a November vote to pass the Stadium Improvement Project by Carmel Unified School District’s Board of Education, a group of Carmel residents under the name “Save Carmel” has filed a lawsuit against the district, claiming that CUSD hasn’t mitigated environmental concerns thoroughly enough under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Although it is still unclear whether Save Carmel intends to file for a restraining order or injunction, which, if granted by a judge, would halt the project’s construction, both parties are scheduled to meet in front of a judge May 9 for a case management conference. From there, a judge could simply push for a mediation between the two groups, or, should a restraining order or injunction be filed, a future court date could be arranged to hear the case once more in further depth.
The lawsuit was no shock to the CUSD Board or district administrators, who had been notified by several community members of their intent to sue if the project was passed.
“There was a part of me that was holding out hope that maybe some of these neighbors would not move forward and sue,” Superintendent Ted Knight says, “so I was disappointed, but not surprised.”
The bigger concern for the superintendent is the cost of preparing for this lawsuit. Already, Knight is requesting to increase the district’s legal budget from $400,000 to $600,000 in order to pay for lawyers as they craft their defense, and with his personal prediction that the district could be involved in this lawsuit for a couple of years if a restraining order or injunction is filed, CUSD might be spending up to $1 million on lawyers by the end of the 2022-23 school year and even more as the case develops.
“It’s $200,000 where now we’re not giving teachers raises or buying students new textbooks, so it’s going to hurt our district,” Knight explains. “We’re giving law firms hundreds of thousands of dollars because of a small handful of people who live in our community.”
In light of the recent litigation, Knight has also pushed back his late start recommendation for the Board to Feb. 15, giving time to see if Save Carmel pushes for a restraining order in the upcoming weeks. The superintendent reported in a email blast to the CUSD community Jan. 6 that if the filed litigation stops the stadium light process, he plans on reverting back to the same start times each campus has now instead of pushing for later start times, as he does not feel it is safe for athletes to have later practices without lights on the field. Otherwise, the current projected timeline will not be altered.
Save Carmel representatives could not be reached for comment, and the Save Carmel website contains no information about the individuals involved. The group’s suit will be litigated by attorneys William Parkin and Antoinette Ponce Ranit from Wittwer Parkin LLP in Aptos.