Encinitas candidates support arts center effort, differ on site cost

Some question Pacific View purchase as plans forge ahead for project


Although the former Pacific View Elementary School campus in Encinitas, pictured in August 2015, remains empty for now, the city is moving forward with plans for its renewal. (NCC file photo by Susan Whaley)

Mike Peterson

Encinitas City Council and mayoral candidates say they support moving forward with turning the old Pacific View school site into an arts center despite disagreeing about the site’s acquisition.

The blufftop property, which sits on 2.8 acres on Third Street in downtown Encinitas, was formerly Pacific View Elementary School. It was closed by the district in 2003 and remained vacant for roughly a decade. The city first made an offer of $4.3 million to buy the property in 2013. That offer was declined by the Encinitas Union School District board, which set forth plans to sell the property in a public auction.

Tony Kranz
Tony Kranz

In March 2014, the school district offered the city the chance to match the $9.5 million minimum bid. Just days before Pacific View was due to go up for auction, the district accepted the city’s last-minute offer of $10 million.

City Councilman Tony Kranz, who is up for re-election, voted to buy the property in 2014. He said that Pacific View would have been at risk of getting developed if the city had not made a reasonable offer before it went up for auction.

Catherine Blakespear
Catherine Blakespear

“It would have been a bit of a roll of the dice to let the auction go forward,” he said.

Lisa Shaffer, another council member who voted to approve Pacific View’s purchase in 2014, said that the property will likely return value to the community “many times more than what we paid.”

“It would be nice to have paid less, but negotiation doesn’t work that way,” she added.

“Almost 3 acres along the coast is going to cost money, there’s no doubt about that,” mayoral candidate Catherine Blakespear said. She added that the argument that the property could have been bought for less “doesn’t hold much water.”

Tasha Boerner Horvath
Tasha Boerner Horvath

In September 2015, the City Council voted unanimously to approve a lease agreement that would allow the Encinitas Art, Culture and Ecology Alliance to renovate the property and operate it as an arts center. The funds to do so would have to be raised privately by the group — whether by donor, grant or fundraiser.

But despite the funding and renovations being largely up to the Alliance, all of the City Council and mayoral candidates said that they support — and will do their best to help with — the effort of turning the property into an arts center.

Blakespear, for example, said that, as mayor, she will do her best to prioritize the project to make sure it can move forward.

Paul Gaspar
Paul Gaspar

Tasha Boerner Horvath, a planning commissioner and council candidate, said that, if elected, she will be a strong advocate for cleaning up outdated pieces of the city’s municipal code — something that could snarl similar public projects.

“We adopted our municipal code from the county in 1986,” Boerner Horvath said. “And we’ve done very little cleanup since then.”

But while the candidates all pledged to support moving the project forward, several of them disagreed with the price that the city paid for the property.

Phil Graham
Phil Graham

Mayoral candidate Paul Gaspar called the city’s $10 million offer “last-minute,” and also called the city’s plan to lease the property for $1 a year to the Alliance “very odd.”

“This would never happen in the real world — only in politics,” Gaspar wrote in an email.

“If this was a business, no leader would have made this decision,” council candidate Phil Graham said. “It was poorly planned, overpriced, and now we are stuck with a property that needs a lot of money to get it to a place where we want it to be.”

Mark Muir
Mark Muir

Graham added that he isn’t sure that the Alliance can raise the necessary funds for the project. But he said he is willing to help in any way that he can.

“I supported the vision and concept of an arts facility, but I didn’t support what the city paid for it,” said Mark Muir, a City Council member who is up for re-election.

Now that the city owns the property, Muir said, he will help the Alliance’s plans move forward and is currently looking into funding and community support for the project.

Tony Brandenburg
Tony Brandenburg

City Council candidate Tony Brandenburg also shared a similar sentiment.

“I would not have supported (buying Pacific View), but what’s done is done,” Brandenburg said. “I think now we are obligated to follow through and do the best we can.”

Scott Chatfield, the owner of SavePacificView.org and one of the primary mobilizers behind the community movement to save the property, said that — beyond the politics and policy behind the purchase — he’s relieved that the property didn’t get auctioned off to an outside developer.

“I’m just really happy that we saved it,” Chatfield said.

The Alliance is currently in the midst of cleaning up and renovating the site. The group held its last cleanup day of 2016 on Nov. 5, according to its website.

Mike Peterson is a North County freelance writer


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