ENCINITAS — Just before the clock struck 11 p.m. on Wednesday night, the City Council announced it would submit a confidential offer to buy the Pacific View property.
It was the eleventh hour of not just the night, but also negotiations with EUSD (Encinitas Union School District), the property’s owner.
Last week, the city sent a letter asking the district to meet one last time in hopes of averting the March 25 public auction for Pacific View. A response letter from EUSD stated the City Council must submit an offer of at least $9.5 million by March 21 in order for the district to consider a deal.
The City Council, which voted 3-2 in closed session to make an offer, did not disclose the price or terms.
“We hear the community’s concerns and we agree it’s a legacy property — we don’t want to give up,” Mayor Teresa Barth said after the council meeting.
On March 24, the EUSD board of trustees will decide whether to accept the city’s offer during a special meeting.
Barth said the terms were confidential in light of the pending auction.
Scott Chatfield, who started SavePacificView.org, an online campaign that’s generated nearly 700 emails from residents urging the board to stop the auction, welcomed the news of the city’s offer after the meeting.
“The mayor has a half-smile playing upon her face, so I might be able to interpret that as an offer that the district might actually entertain,” Chatfield said.
This past fall, the city began exploring buying the 2.8-acre site, with the goal of putting an arts or community center there. During Wednesday night’s council meeting, residents urged the city to put together an offer to preserve the historic property.
“When this opportunity is gone, it’s gone, and it won’t return,” Tricia Smith said.
Deputy Mayor Mark Muir and Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar voted against putting forward a proposal to buy Pacific View.
Gaspar said Pacific View is a property like no other, but the council majority wants to pay too much for it.
“The offer comes with considerable sacrifice to our entire community, absent public discussion about that sacrifice,” Gaspar said. “The offer being made strays far from the appraised value.”
More than a month ago, councilmembers said the property isn’t worth $9.5 million, citing two appraisals of the property under the current zoning, one for $3.3 million and the other for $7.3 million.
EUSD believes the property could be rezoned for housing, upping its worth to at least $9.5 million.
Along with asking a minimum of $9.5 million from the city, EUSD stipulated in its letter that should the city purchase the property, it must remain public land and can’t be rezoned or sold.
Before moving to closed session, councilmembers described the condition as odd since it wasn’t imposed on bidders taking part in the March 25 auction.
EUSD Superintendent Tim Baird said on Monday the requirement was added because the city could theoretically purchase the property for $9.5 million, rezone the land to increase the value and then sell it.
“If we’re going to sell it to you for what we think is a low price for this property, then make that guarantee that it’s going to be public land,” Baird said.
Last week, residents packed into a school board meeting to halt the auction. After they also showed up at a council meeting the next night, council members agreed to draft the letter requesting alternatives to an auction.
In that letter, the city asked if EUSD is open to a joint-use agreement to develop an arts center on the land.
But EUSD isn’t looking for a joint-use agreement with the city; the district isn’t interested in running an arts center or another community facility at the site, Baird said.
“We already have arts facilities, and (funds) from the sale of the property could go toward supporting those,” he said.
If the board of trustees declines the city’s offer, the district will open sealed bids during the March 25 auction.
Baird said he isn’t sure how many bids EUSD has received so far, adding that sealed bids typically come in the day of an auction.
Bidders can submit cash offers under the current zoning, which allows for everything from an arts center to a medical complex. EUSD is also taking bids that call for housing and mixed-use development on the property.
Should the auction happen, if cash bids for the current zoning reach $12 million, only those offers will be considered, even if rezone bids are higher. Otherwise, the highest bid would win the auction.
John S. Pitcher deeded the 2.8-acre property to the district in 1883. At that time, Encinitas’ original schoolhouse was built on the site, and after being moved, returned to the property about 30 years ago.
Pacific View Elementary was built in 1953, yet closed in 2003 due to declining enrollment. Since then, a variety of proposals for the property have failed to win approval.