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No surplus of debate in Pacific View school quandary: Opinions differ on state act as online campaign builds

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No surplus of debate in Pacific View school quandary: Opinions differ on state act as online campaign builds

The original Encinitas schoolhouse, maintained by the Encinitas Historical Society, sits on the site of Pacific View Elementary School. The Encinitas Union School District plans to auction the long-closed Pacific View in March. (Photo by Scott Allison)

The original Encinitas schoolhouse, maintained by the Encinitas Historical Society, sits on the site of Pacific View Elementary School. The Encinitas Union School District plans to auction the long-closed Pacific View in March. (Photo by Scott Allison)

Scott Allison

The original Encinitas schoolhouse, maintained by the Encinitas Historical Society, sits on the site of Pacific View Elementary School. The Encinitas Union School District plans to auction the long-closed Pacific View in March. (Photo by Scott Allison)

Scott Allison

Scott Allison

The original Encinitas schoolhouse, maintained by the Encinitas Historical Society, sits on the site of Pacific View Elementary School. The Encinitas Union School District plans to auction the long-closed Pacific View in March. (Photo by Scott Allison)

Alex Groves

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The battle over an unoccupied Encinitas school site rages on as the Encinitas Union School District has set the property up for auction in March with a minimum bid of $9.5 million, sparking a grassroots movement to preserve the property that has City Council members and school district officials alike talking.

Pacific View Elementary School has long been a part of Encinitas’ history and culture. For years, it functioned as a school that Encinitas-area students attended until declining enrollment caused it to close in 2003.

Not much has been done with the property since the time of its closing; it’s mostly become a dilapidated storage facility for the district.

The site also is home to a one-room schoolhouse dating back to the 1880s, which now functions as a museum with various exhibits related to Encinitas history. The schoolhouse is open from 1-4 p.m. every Friday and Saturday and is run by the Encinitas Historical Society.

A grassroots movement

The schoolhouse and the property it stands on — with a view of the Pacific Ocean — are things that Leucadia resident Scott Chatfield wants to save.

Chatfield, an adjunct radio professor at San Diego City College, never attended the school as a child even though he lived in Encinitas when he was that age. But he said he was moved to try to preserve it when he learned it would be up for auction come mid-March.

“It always seemed like a magical place to be and I was always a little jealous of kids that got to go to Pacific View school because it was just — you could see the ocean. You could see the wind coming off the ocean all the time,” Chatfield said.

“When I heard about the district’s auction, it sort of just found me,” he said. “I literally woke up at 3 o’clock in the morning thinking, ‘I’ve got to do something about this.’”

And so Chatfield started, a website where members of the community have been able to share their thoughts and feelings on the proposed auction of the school. It’s also been a place where members of both the school district and City Council have responded and shared their own opinions.

So far, Councilman Tony Kranz, and Encinitas Union School District members Carol Skiljan and Maureen Muir have weighed in on the plethora of emails that have been sent to them through the site.

Auction in the works

The decision to put the property up for auction more than 10 years after its closing comes on the heels of two failed sales.

The first of the two sale attempts was between the school district and Art Pulse, a nonprofit organization. Art Pulse was offering $7 million to transform the former elementary school into an arts center, but it failed to raise the necessary amount of funding to facilitate the deal.

Most recently, the city’s bid to purchase the property fell through because of the city’s proposed purchase price of $4.3 million, which Encinitas School District Superintendent Tim Baird said was too low when compared with the district’s valuation of the property.

John Britt, assistant superintendent of business services for the Encinitas Union School District, said school officials aren’t necessarily opposed to having the facility go into public use but want to make sure that the property is purchased for what it’s worth instead of a price that’s under market value.

“We have worked with the city in the past; there have been times when it (the property) has been offered to the city in the past,” Britt said. “So I don’t think we’re picking who our partner might be in that and I don’t know where the city is going to head on that; but no, I don’t think we’re not open to working with the city.”

Britt said he could not comment on the disparity between the city’s proposal and the school district’s proposed entry-level bid, other than to say that the school district utilized all available information to come to an estimated worth of $9.5 million for the property.

Encinitas City Councilman Tony Kranz said he thinks he knows exactly why there was a difference between what the city offered and what the district is now asking for.

“The discrepancy is based upon the fact that the property is currently zoned public, semi-public, and the price that the school district has set on the minimum bid is based on their contention that the education code entitles them to have it rezoned at R-15 (residential zoning),” Kranz said. “So residential property is worth significantly more than public and semi-public.”

In order to be able to even use the property for residential purposes, the school district will have to go to the City Council to receive approval for the R-15 designation, and that’s something Kranz said is multifaceted, complicated and perhaps something the City Council doesn’t have to do.

“When somebody comes into the planning department and says, ‘I want my property rezoned,’ there are a variety of steps they have to take, and while there’s some language in the education code that talks about how this has to be done, one of the things I know it says is it has to be done according to our procedure,” he said. “So the school district won’t be treated any differently than anybody else who wants property rezoned.”

Kranz said he doesn’t believe the city is under any requirement to necessarily approve zoning changes but that he’s not completely sure whether that’s the case. That question may have to be answered in court, he said.

The Naylor Act

Some individuals familiar with the ongoing battle over the school property have suggested that the Naylor Act, part of the California Education Code, is one way of preventing the property from even going to auction.

The act allows other agencies of government to acquire surplus school grounds in order to preserve playgrounds for public use and has been an issue at the center of multiple school facility sales.

According to school district Assistant Superintendent of Business John Britt, the Naylor Act likely doesn’t apply to the school grounds because they’ve been closed for so long.

A document released by the school district that was penned by law firm Best Best & Krieger suggests that because the school facility and its playground have been unavailable to the public for a period of more than eight years, they are no longer protected by the act, and this is the legal opinion that the school district will consult moving forward.

“Here, the Pacific View property has not been used for playground, playfield or any other recreational activity for the last eight years,” the legal opinion states. “Accordingly, by the plain language of the Naylor Act, it is inapplicable to the Pacific View property.”

Other observers such as Carl Hilliard aren’t so sure that the legal opinion gives the best view of the law and how it works. Hilliard served as one of two lawyers who worked to keep the Del Mar Shores school property in Del Mar from residential and commercial development in the mid 2000s.

“We invoked the Naylor Act and the school in Del Mar had been closed for more than that period of time,” Hilliard said. “And the Naylor Act applies to playgrounds and allows the city to purchase (a school property) at 25 percent of per market value, but it must contain a playground and if it’s not used as a playground then there’s a right for the school district to repurchase it.

“We filed an action and the action was going forward when we reached an agreement with the school district to acquire all of the property, so we dropped it,” he said. “And the reason we dropped it is because we wanted to have a property unencumbered by a particular use such as a playing field.”

Hilliard said that because the city of Del Mar was able to apply the act to a property that had been closed for more than eight years, the legal opinion provided by the Encinitas School District is likely a superficial reading of how the act works.

While all parties involved in the possible auction of the Pacific View school site continue to seek the counsel of legal professionals, Scott Chatfield said he’s just trying to open up a conversation that might facilitate change. He said he believes that putting aside the legalities of the situation, the right thing to do is pretty simple.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer that this property was put in the public use and should stay in the public use instead of by the district as an ATM,” he said.

Alex Groves is a freelance writer in the region

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6 Responses to “No surplus of debate in Pacific View school quandary: Opinions differ on state act as online campaign builds”

  1. Diane Bond on February 27th, 2014 4:37 pm

    So, reading between the lines, the school district’s attorneys’ advice was to wait to sell and the district did just that. What a sleazy way to circumvent public policy and avoid the Naylor Act’s clear imperative. This is a fraud on the public.

  2. Lynn Marr on February 28th, 2014 10:51 pm

    Thanks very much, Carl Hilliard, for sharing your opinions. Also thanks to Scott Chatfield for creating a wonderful webpage, – an online forum that is getting out the word, inspiring others to participate in this grassroots effort to Save Pacific View, which cause has been ongoing for many years.

    This historical, donated land, including, but not limited to the Old Schoolhouse, is part of our heritage and community character. Pacific View should remain in the public domain; it must NOT be privatized for short term gain, a one-time injection into the District’s facility improvement funds.

    However, were the City of Encinitas to buy the property for one million dollars over the appraisal price in the public/semi-public zoning, using local comps, the District would benefit by this one time injection of funds. The City would be able to preserve the entire parcel in the public domain, and the community would benefit by a non profit foundation’s leasing and rehabbing the property for a true community arts and learning center.

    This could be a win/win/win scenario, rather than a situation where would-be developers are not getting full disclosure of their responsibility to improve the road, or the challenges inherent in any rezoning requests, as evidenced from past Council decisions.

    Superintendent Tim Baird, through School District attorney Tyree K. Dorward for BEST BEST & KRIEGER, has painted a disingenuous picture of the law as it applies to Pacific View, in an attempt to undermine the community’s desires to preserve the land in the public domain, part of it, for open space.

    Reading the documents provided through the District’s link – one will find, among other misleading statements:

    Page 32 (of PDF file)
    “From the beginning, the district has expressed its intent to exchange, not sell, the property at its highest potential value for another property within the boundaries of the Encinitas Union School District that produces a new revenue stream to support the cost of maintaining schools throughout the district. The exchange was pursued under the explicit authorization in the California Education Code.”

    Page 33
    “The Naylor Act, however, only applies when a school site property has been used as a playground, park or other recreational purposes for eight years immediately prior to a school district disposing of a property.”

    However, the relevant Education Code, that part of the Naylor Act specifies:

    Section 17485.
    “The Legislature is concerned that school playgrounds, playing fields, and recreational real property will be lost for those uses by the surrounding communities . . . It is the intent of the Legislature in enacting this article to allow school districts to recover their investment in surplus property while making it possible for other agencies of government to acquire the property and keep it available for playground, playing field or other outdoor recreational and open-space purposes.”

    Section 17486: “This article shall apply to any schoolsite owned by a school district, which the governing board determines to sell or lease, and with respect to which the following conditions exist:
    (a) Either the whole or a portion of the schoolsite consists of land which is used for school playground, playing field, or other outdoor recreational purposes and open-space land particularly suited for recreational purposes.
    (b) The land described in subdivision (a) has been used for one or more of the purposes specified therein for at least eight years immediately preceding the date of the governing board’s determination to sell or lease the schoolsite.”
    At least eight years immediately preceding the date of the governing board’s determination to sell or lease the schoolsite, which was established by a lease to the City of Encinitas agreed to by the Board of Trustees and Council, as signed on February 2/04 by Superintendent Doug DeVore and City Mannager 2/2/04, but, according to the lease documents, effective from December 1, 2003, the land was used, in part, for playing fields, playgrounds and other recreational purposes and open space uses.

    The difference is that the District has been twisting and misinterpreting the law. The time must toll from when the District first determined the land was to be offered for lease (or for sale). At that time, when the playing fields were paved over at taxpayers expense, the mandates of the Naylor Act has not been complied with by either EUSD or the City of Encinitas. As Carl Hillard suggests; it’s not too late! The Naylor Act is still applicable.

    Because Pacific View was used as playing fields 8 years immediately prior to the District’s determination to lease the property six months after the school was permanently closed in June of 2003, then 30% of the District’s total surplus school property must be offered to the City at 25% of the CURRENT appraised value, in the current zoning. The formula for determining the appraised value, in accordance with the Naylor Act, does NOT include upzoning, which would require approval of the Planning Dept., the Planning Commission, Council, the Coastal Commission and could only be accomplished after a public vote, paid for by the applicant for such rezoning.

  3. PATRICK O'CONNOR on March 1st, 2014 10:26 am

    My problem is I never went to law school. All this discussion is way beyond my IQ. As a retired builder seems to me the school high command is selling a law suit . Mr Baird & Co. are non participants in solutions. May I suggest they begin the Rezone uptick as owners solve all the politics then they have something to sell.

  4. PATRICK O'CONNOR on March 1st, 2014 10:37 am

    My problem is that I never went to law school. As a retired builder it appears to me that the school high command is selling a law suit. Lets all come down from the ivory tower. and Get with the Rezone politics as an owner. Take the responsibility be pro active, get with it. Then you have value to sell.

  5. Joan Marchese on March 1st, 2014 11:02 am

    The EUSD wants as much as it can get or the children of Encinitas. They are not using the funds from the sale for anything but that. The more they can manage to sell Pacific View for the better for the children. Simple.

  6. Lynn Marr on March 1st, 2014 1:48 pm

    It’s not simple, because the taxpayers of Encinitas have already passed School Bonds O and P (passed in 2010), and Prop 30 (2012), statewide, to help the school children. We are already paying $25 x 3 per every $100K of our homes value in addition to our “regularly” charged property taxes, for these two EUSD school bonds and the San Dieguito School Bond which passed in 2012. So that’s $75 extra per year per $100K of assessed value.

    Like the money from school bonds, the money from selling a surplus school site MUST go into facility improvements for EUSD. Superintendent Tim Baird is being disingenuous when he states money could go into a one time injection into EUSD’s General Fund. The ONLY time that could possibly happen is if the State Allocations Board determined that no money would be needed for facilities improvements for TEN YEARS! That is next to impossible, with the number of temporary classrooms still at EUSD. Plus the facilities funding, for 25-30 year bonds, is also going to I-PADS and I-PAD technology, which normally must be replaced every five years, minimum.

    The City offered to pay $1 Million over the current appraised value, using local comps and in the current zoning. That is how appraisals are normally done. Pacific View is donated, historical land, which is part of our community character. It should not be privatized so a few developers and their enablers can profit at the expense of our community heritage.

    Were the City to purchase the land, EUSD would still get its one time injection of funds. Superintendent Baird attempted to do the same thing, nearly, in the City of Ojai, where he was Superintendent of a high school district, there. A surplus school site had been promised to community volunteers to raise funds to build a skatepark. Baird wanted to go along with developers to put in what was described as a “strip mall.” Baird tried to say that the OUSD’s insurance advisor had said the property couldn’t be developed as a skatepark with the help of volunteers. That was false. Baird tried to say crime would go up with a skatepark. The Chief of Police said that was false. When Baird was recruited from OUSD to EUSD in late 2009, the skatepark was successfully built in Ojai, with the help of community volunteers. Their gain (Baird’s leaving) was our loss.

    We support the children. A true community arts and learning center would be a win/win/win, for the community, for the City and for the District.

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No surplus of debate in Pacific View school quandary: Opinions differ on state act as online campaign builds