Pacific View Elementary in Encinitas closed 10 years ago and the school district now uses it for storage. But the property is a few feet away from a dramatic ocean overlook and the land is worth millions. Just how many millions is up for debate.
The city of Encinitas has offered to pay $4.3 million for the land to keep it for public use. But the school board has voted to auction off the property, with a minimum bid set at $9.5 million. They said the money will go to benefit public schools.
Superintendent Tim Baird said the school district wants to work with the city, but has an obligation to their students and families to get the highest bid. Encinitas Mayor Teresa Barth said even if the school district got $9 million, once that money is spent, it’s gone. But the land could remain available for generations if the city buys it for public use.
One major reason for the big discrepancy in land-value estimates are the limitations on how the property can be used. It could not be sold to a developer to build private homes, for example, without a zoning change. And who would grant a zoning change? The city of Encinitas.
But even the city council might not have the power to change the zoning, because Encinitas passed an initiative last year that said any significant zoning change has to go to a vote of the people. That could be a major roadblock for any new development.
Baird said the school district got an offer two years ago of $7 million from an arts group, but unfortunately that group couldn’t raise the cash, so the deal fell through. Since then, he said, property values have gone way up, so he believes $9 million is a reasonable minimum amount to ask.
The school board passed a resolution asking for closed bids on the property and they scheduled an auction to start with the highest bid on March 25.
Wednesday evening the Encinitas City Council will consider what to do next. One option is to raise their offer, but there seems little chance the city would or could meet the school district’s minimum bid. Barth said the city hopes to avoid getting into a legal battle over the issue, but the council will also hear a presentation on whether it would be feasible to use eminent domain to take the land.
UPDATE. The city council voted to direct the city manager to write a letter to Superintendent Baird, expressing the city's disappointment in the school district's decision to hold an auction on the property. They pointed out that there is no request for a rezoning of the property on record at the city. And they invited him to submit a proposal for a purchase of the property by the city.
The council will take up the matter of the price and terms for purchase of the property again at a meeting in February.