Pacific View takes center stage in Olivenhain debate

ENCINITAS — It has been more than two years since the city purchased the Pacific View Elementary School site in downtown Encinitas for $10 million from the Encinitas Union School District.

The purchase — and the future of the property — resurfaced Wednesday as a source of debate between the City Council and mayoral candidates at the Olivenhain Town Council candidate forum.

While it was originally not a question asked to the candidates, several of the candidates criticized the council’s purchase of the 2.8-acre property, arguing the council drastically overpaid for the property.

“I voted against Pacific View, and it was because of the cost,” Councilman Mark Muir said as part of his answer about new projects that he would propose if re-elected. “It appraised at $3.3 million, and we paid $10 million for it.”

Muir said he believed the city could have accomplished the ultimate goal for Pacific View — an arts center — at a smaller pad at the Encinitas Ranch Town Center earmarked for a theater for the past 20 years.

Muir’s comment prompted both mayoral candidate Paul Gaspar and council candidate Tony Brandenburg to also level criticism about the cost of the project.

Councilman Tony Kranz, who is seeking re-election and was among the three-member majority who voted in favor of the purchase, addressed the purchase during his answer to a question about the chances of the city building an aquatics center.

Kranz called the argument that the city overpaid “nuts,” pointing to a $12.5 million value assigned to the property if it were zoned residential, which he said came from an appraisal done by the school district.

“The land at the coastline is well over $10 million. It’s a steal,” Kranz said. “It’s a moot point because it is not going to be sold…it is going to make an excellent arts center and I look forward to continuing with the process.”

Kranz’s comments drew the biggest applause from the audience.

The moderator later then asked each of the candidates why it’s taken so long for the plans for Pacific View to get on track and could the property support an arts center. The city in 2015 selected a group that calls themselves the Encinitas Arts, Culture and Ecology Alliance to negotiate a long-term agreement for the property.

But, as the moderator pointed out, many residents have questioned why the property is still boarded up and seemingly little activity has occurred since the purchase.

This reignited discussion about the property, with Muir again questioning what would become with the property.

“Part of the problem is they don’t have performance measurements, they don’t have a financial plan or some of the other stuff you would want to see before you would enter into an agreement with someone,” Muir said.

Tasha Boerner Horvath and Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear both then defended the purchase and discussed the need for the city to continue to support the ongoing efforts to develop the arts center on the site.

“We’ve heard a lot about the purchase, but the reality is that the city purchased it,” Boerner Horvath said. “So now it is up to this council and the next council to make this the amenity that we all know will make this downtown even more special.”

Blakespear, who wasn’t on the council when it was purchased, compared the purchase to the city’s purchase of property that ultimately yielded the Encinitas Community Park, the Community Center and City Hall.

“When you look at things in our town that are beloved (such as the park, community center and city hall) all these things had to be purchased at some point, and now they are gathering places for the community that we love,” Blakespear said. “Pacific View was either going to be something the city bought and turned into a vibrant gem, or it was going to be a subdivision or a high-end hotel, but most likely a subdivision, and I don’t think we need any more housing.

“I know it’s been a slow start but hopefully things will get moving faster, but I am happy to have (Pacific View) and I support that decision,” Blakespear said.

Phil Graham, who is running for council, has been critical of the purchase, but he said he agreed with Boerner Horvath that now the city must move forward with a plan to get the city a return on its investment.

“Now we have to deal with the repercussions of that (purchase),” Graham said. “We have an obligation to make it the jewel it can be.”

The 90-minute long forum held at the Olivenhain Meeting Hall covered ground that has been covered throughout the election season, including the candidate’s thoughts on the housing element proposal.

The candidates were also asked about their opinion of a speculated extension of Fortuna Ranch Road to connect Olivenhain with Elfin Forest (all said they did not support it), a potential aquatics center in Encinitas (all but Brandenburg said it would have to be weighed against other competing priorities) and bike lanes on Manchester Avenue between Encinitas Boulevard and El Camino Real as well as Caltrans’ plans for widening Manchester.

The candidates were also asked about projects they would propose if elected.

Among the mayoral candidates, Blakespear said she would continue promotion of the rail corridor visioning plan, while Gaspar said he would focus on projects with high community consensus, such as the Leucadia Streetscape.

Boerner Horvath said she would favor a cleanup of the city’s zoning code and land-use documents, which she said currently don’t serve the community. Graham said he would order an audit of city finances to make sure the taxpayer dollars were being spent appropriately.

Kranz and Brandenburg both pointed to addressing the rising issue of homelessness in the community, especially downtown. Muir said he would continue to press for funding and prioritization of open space acquisition and trail connection and development.

  1. Just the Facts 11 months ago

    Wow…for someone who recently said he was the most qualified candidate to ever run for city council Paul Gaspar doesn’t know much about the Pacific View school purchase. First the city determined that the Naylor Act did not apply, that the city did offer a much lower price initially which the school district rejected; and that the school district was set to hold an auction for the property with a minimum bid of $9.5M; the city had an appraisal of$12.5M. The city got a real bargain at $10M.

  2. KIE 11 months ago

    The $12.5 million appraisal was if the property were upzoned to R15. That was an open question at auction time. A yes or no on upzoning would have been decided in court by a judge. Since the property had been zoned public/semi-public for more than 100 years and since the land was originally donated then later expanded as a school site, it likely would have remained public/semi-public. The two appraisals at that zoning were about $3 million and $7 million, so the average was about $5 million. That means the city paid double the value. EUSD’s Baird hoodwinked the city. Kranz went for it hook, line and sinker, and has been misleading the public since. Buying the site was the right thing to do, but the city paid twice what it should have.

  3. Just the Facts 11 months ago

    People assume that negotiations are unilateral but the city had no leverage- if they didn’t make an offer the auction would have gone ahead. There wasn’t an option to buy it for $5 million as the comment suggests. It takes two to get a deal and when the other side holds the cards and you want what they have, you pay more. Sure a judge would have decided but when the school district asks for rezoning of their property I suspect the judge would side with them. The council majority did not want R15 with a possible density bonus project on the property. Apparently, Muir & Gaspar were OK with that possibility. However, it’s a done deal and time to move forward.

  4. KIE 11 months ago

    The past is prologue for the future. To suggest moving on without acknowledging past mistakes ensures more will be made. The auction would have been inconclusive because there were no bids. Nobody in his right mind would bid $9.5 million on the chance the property would be upzoned. Considering the intent of the original donor and the property’s very long term history, it’s far more likely it would have remained PSP. That’s why no savvy parties submitted bids. The city got suckered.

  5. Jacqueline Arsivaud 11 months ago

    “The candidates were also asked about their opinion of a speculated extension of Fortuna Ranch Road to connect Olivenhain with Elfin Forest “….anyone has more details? As the Chair of the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council, would just like to chime in that all the roads East from Fortuna Ranch through Elfin Forest are private – would love to hear from proponents or opponents ( and from reporter for more details) at – thanks.

  6. citywatch 10 months ago

    NO on Measure T.
    Measure T puts condos in our major shopping areas. Some of the areas listed in Measure T – Sprouts – 271 condos, LA Fitness – 436 condos, Encinitas Ranch Town Center – 249 Condos, Vons – 263 condos (across from Scripps Hospital), Cardiff, Seaside market Town Center – 100 condos (includes surrounding properties)

    With density bonus the number of condos could be increased 35% – 4,000 high-density housing units at market rate. Measure T requires no affordable housing, lacks onsite parking requirements, empowers the Planning Director alone to approve 90% of development, creates gridlock from additional car trips per day, raises building height from 30 feet to 48 feet, and removes Prop A protections.
    Measure T could increase lawsuits because it hasn’t withstood a legal challenge. The existing housing element was challenged 22 years ago, and the city won. But Measure T is completely new.
    Vote NO on Measure T. Send this back and demand a better plan!

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