News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

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

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