In a personal appeal to the school board, Filner gave his assurance that he would be willing to work with the school district to secure the prime coastal real estate and preserve the land for public use.
“What I would have liked to do — and I think Mr. Barnett thinks we can still do it in a timely fashion — is keep public lands in public hands,” he said. “It seems to me that we ought to be working very closely together on these lands.”
Although the city was offered the property prior to auction, Filner said he was unaware of any such sale and apologized for his 11th-hour proposal that he feared might have come too late.
“I’m embarrassed because I’m here on the day you’re making a decision. I should not do that,” he said. “Frankly, when you notified the city that property was surplus and for sale, it went to a department that did not notify me. Otherwise, I would have gotten involved a lot earlier.”
According to Barnett’s plan, the city would pay $11 million over the next two fiscal years for the property and the school district would retain equity ownership of $7,500,001 — which amounts to one dollar more than the top bid offered by McKellar-Ashbrook at auction May 4.
“The city and San Diego Unified should work together with the community to determine short-term and long-term use of the property, which should include dedicated public uses and public revenue-producing opportunities,” said Barnett in his motion to the board. The motion failed because of the lack of a second.
“We [board members] will be gone in two, four or ten years, but that property is an asset that we’ve had since 1926,” Barnett said.
Community representatives from local planning groups and school cluster boards voiced strong support for Barnett’s proposal during the meeting.
“This is the biggest land-use change in Mission Beach in 50 years,” said Debbie Watkins, chairwoman of the Mission Beach Precise Planning Board. “This is 2.23 acres of prime real estate in the heart of Mission Beach that is an important city resource. Our beach community would have to live with the negative impact of this sale, and SDUSD, the City of San Diego and Mission Beach will lose a valuable resource if it is sold to developers.”
Some community members expressed concern that if the developer builds a high-density condo in that location it would increase traffic congestion and criminal activity in the already densely populated beach community.
“Selling this incredible property would be a tragic, tragic loss to the district, the city and certainly to our community,” said Jennifer Tandy, past chairwoman of the Mission Bay Cluster of Schools. “You will have your one-time dollars for this sale, but we will live with the longtime ramifications of your decisions forever.”
In October, the same Mission Beach property drew an auction bid of $16.5 million by the San Francisco-based Carmel Partners, but the property was taken off the chopping block at the last minute by the school board — sparing it only temporarily.
This time around, the majority of school board trustees assured Filner and Barnett that they are interested in pursing joint partnerships for surplus properties in the future, but they could not justify the risk that would be taken in pursuing a last-minute change of heart for the Mission Beach site a second time.
Some said another last-minute retreat may send the wrong message to the real-estate community and the bond market, thus damaging SDUSD’s credibility and handicapping its ability to complete other real-estate sales.
“We have to make sure we are doing our fiduciary duty because we are being watched,” said school board trustee Kevin Baiser. “The bond markets are watching, and we have to have our TRANs (tax and revenue anticipation notes) approved so we can make payroll. I think it’s a travesty and it’s unfortunate that it has come to this point, but unfortunately, there are no other alternatives I can see at this time.”
Trustee Marne Foster and board president John Lee Evans said the educational milestones they have worked so hard to achieve, despite difficult financial times, would be at stake should the school district fail to meet its financial responsibilities.
“We’ve had to balance our education mission and our financial solvency,” said Evans. “We are trustees for the education of the children of San Diego, and we will do what we can to preserve and protect their education. That’s why this is so necessary and so important that we accept this bid tonight.”
McKellar-Ashbrook principals Chris McKellar, Tim McGowan and Jeff Johnson said they are longtime San Diego residents who are interested in working with the community to craft a plan that is in line with the unique beach community character.
“We look forward to working closely with the community, the city and other stakeholders to develop a plan that is in keeping with the unique character of Mission Beach,” said McGowan. “We look forward to a project that everyone can be proud of.”