Jul 28, 2014
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School Board Denies Pleas for Park in Rancho Bernardo

Board members agreed to open up a piece of land in Bernardo Heights for sale to developers to bring in revenue.

School Board Denies Pleas for Park in Rancho Bernardo

Updated 10:23 p.m. with additional details.

Despite pleas for a pause, and a pledge to oppose developer projects on the site, Poway Unified School District board members on Tuesday agreed to move forward with plans to sell a water tower site in Rancho Bernardo that residents want to turn into a park.

The 4-0 vote, excluding an absent board member Penny Ranftle, follows months of delays and a last-minute request from new Councilman Mark Kersey to give the city more time to find funding to buy the property and turn it into a park.

The city had been given the first pass at the property, but talks had stalled since July. Since then, residents have pushed for extensions to give the city more time.

Superintendent John Collins and board members said the district needs to sell the property and use the proceeds to help current students, who are in overcrowded classrooms.

"While I absolutely respect the community's wishes to have a park there, it is the responsibility of this board and the administration to provide for the 35,000 students [in PUSD]," Collins said. "It is not [our] responsibility to provide parks for the community."

Rancho Bernardo residents, including the community's Recreation Council head Nick Anastasopoulos, argued that there is a shortage of park space that the water tower site—at 16061 Avenida Venusto—could be used to fill.

But Collins said it seems that residents are more intersted in blocking development at the site than turning it into a park since years have gone by since the last move to sell it fell through and it's still not a park.

RB Planning Board member Matt Stockton told the board that the site in Bernardo Heights is zoned for an educational facility (the site had housed a school) and, if not used for that purpose, is to be used as a park. Any attempts to change the zoning would need to go through the Planning Board, which would oppose the change, he said.

In response, Collins said the public opposition to zoning changes could reduce how much the district is able to get for the property—which will have a minimum acceptable written bid of $6.6 million—so officials may want to look into selling the property to a private school.

Kersey, with a nod to the reputation hit PUSD has endured over the billion-dollar bond controversy, said selling the property now would be yet another bad fiscal decision by the district. Real estate prices are rising, he said, and it would be better to wait several years to get more in the deal.

Officials have pushed for a deal now, citing a closing window that has temporarily allowed school districts to sell property to pay down debt instead of reinvesting the proceeds in capital projects. But Kersey and others argued Tuesday that there is no urgency because state budget talks have mentioned opening the window a bit longer.

But board president Marc Davis said the district can't wait to see if that provision is approved.

Kersey also asked for more time to give the city an opportunity to change its financing plan that would redirect development fees to pay for the park, but he said it could take years and board members expressed a reluctance to wait that long.

Approving Tuesday's resolution allows the district to open a call for written bids, which will be opened and read in March. Collins added that City of San Diego can still put in a bid for the property along with developers.

Check back for updates to this story.

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