At last Tuesday's Board of Education meeting, City Councilmember Ralph Inzunza implored the five trustees to put politics aside and “rise above” their bad habit of delivering 3-to-2 votes on touchy subjects. Not that, on the surface at least, there was anything to suggest the agenda item Inzunza was referring to would present a problem.
Up for vote was a resolution to issue an official Request for Proposals (also known as an RFP) from anyone interested in leasing three parcels of school district-owned land at Commercial and Irving streets in the Logan/Sherman Heights area. The winning proposal could then lease the property for up to 99 years.
Currently occupying the Commercial Street property is a plot of fenced-off land and a 40,000-square-foot building that's become a default storage facility for the school district's discarded junk. As Facilities Management Chief Operating Officer Lou Smith put it, it's where you can find lots of Apple IIE computers.
The obvious idea to build a school on the site was vetoed long ago, thanks to a number of environmental hazards in the area-a busy main street running past the property, an underground gas main and high voltage power lines overhead.
So, with the property's future up for grabs, Barrio Logan residents turned out en masse at Tuesday's meeting to let the board know that the community had a myriad of good ideas about what to do with the land: mixed-use affordable housing, an arts center, a recreation complex-something, at the very least, that would be more practical and attractive than what was currently there. “It's one of the most blighted parts of the Sherman/Logan Heights area,” Inzunza noted, “and it belongs to the school district.”
Roughly an hour later, however, the board delivered a 3-to-2 vote, one majority vote shy of 4-to-1 required by law for a school district to go public with an intent to lease excess property. And, as usual, the two dissenting votes came from perpetual school board troublemakers John deBeck and Fran Zimmerman.
At issue, both noted, was the fact that the whole RFP process was out of whack. Debeck argued that the RFP was vaguely worded and didn't specify the kind of proposals that would best serve the community. It was Zimmerman, however, who delivered the real zinger, alleging that certain board members had been carrying on back-room dealings with private developers that might have an interest in the property. What's more, she argued, there were no recent records of the district's Excess Property Committee having met to discuss what to do with the Commercial Street parcels-meetings that are required by law. As far as she knew, the last major review of the property had been done in 1995, and even that one was based on a 1991 review.
The Excess Property Committee, composed of board-appointed members, is charged with keeping tabs on the huge amounts of extra land owned by the San Diego Unified School District. Zimmerman said her appointee to the committee had never been invited to a single meeting. And, she added, if the alleged meetings-which, by law, required a public notice-had taken place, where were the records?
Smith told Zimmerman he would do his best to produce those records.
“That will be very amazing, Merlin... Mr. Magician,” Zimmerman shot back, “if you are able to produce a report that's been asked for and not gotten.” Zimmerman said she had, in fact, submitted numerous public records requests to district staff for documents pertaining to unused land, including the Commercial Street property-requests that have, so far, been largely ignored to the extent that she's looking into hiring a lawyer.
“Over the four years of Mr. [Alan] Bersin's superintendency,” Zimmerman said later, “community-based committees have fallen into disuse.
“This [property],” she argued, “requires a fresh look; it requires updated current information and decision-making on the part of the board and it requires an absolutely level and fair playing field for any potential users of that property.
“We need to have a clear understanding,” she continued, “on the part of the board of what the [excess] properties are, what their present uses are, what their real estate value is, what we would need to get back from the long-term lease of these lands to whomever, and what project would best serve the communities in which they are located.”
None of this information, said Zimmerman, was clearly outlined at Tuesday's board meeting.
Bersin said that Zimmerman's allegations of inside deals were unfounded and that questions regarding the RFP process were being reviewed to determine when the issue could be brought back to the board.
Zimmerman said she hoped her committee appointee would be confirmed at the Oct. 6 board meeting so that the Commercial Street matter can ultimately be resolved.