City Council approval of an agreement with the San Diego Unified School District to make land acquisitions and dispositions occur without money transfers is raising some eyebrows.
The agreement, passed unanimously this week after some pointed questions by Councilmember Donna Frye, makes all land owned by the city of San Diego and the San Diego School District transferable without either party exchanging cash. Transactions would take place on paper only. School district folks see this deal as “expediting the transaction,” said Scott Patterson, deputy chief operating officer for the San Diego Unified School District.
“Sometimes the schools and the council want to do good things for the community, but because of financial constraints they can't do it,” said Councilmember Byron Wear. “Now they can go ahead on mutually beneficial projects.”
A $500,000 renewable fund will be created to fund transactions. That amount is the maximum each party is permitted to be in arrears from land trades at any one time, said Will Griffith, real estate assets director for the city of San Diego and co-signer of the recommendation.
“The agreement doesn't change any existing process within the city, and City Council approval must be received before acquisitions and dispositions are completed,” Griffith said.
Under the agreement, before any property is exchanged, the school district must get approval from the Excess School Property Advisory Committee, which is made up of appointees by the Board of Education and the schools superintendent. Then it goes to the Board of Education for approval to begin negotiations and back to the Board of Education for final approval.
Opponents of the agreement point out that it arrives just as the City Council is set to approve the update of the General Plan-the city's guiding planning blueprint, under which land swaps would be beneficial for the city.
The agreement gives very broad authority for the transfer of land between the school district and the city, and as of yet, there is no list of properties under consideration, said Jan Selberg, representative of Citizens for Quality Schools in Communities.
There are also concerns that the agreement would allow the school district to transfer land to the city and dodge state regulations that require the district to offer excess property first to the public, Selberg said.
“If the school can transfer land to the city, then the requirements to make the land available to the public is removed,” she said.
Critics are also drawing lines between the agreement and law changes prior to the exchange of the Naval Training Center (NTC).
“In NTC they changed laws in order to expedite the transfer of property between governmental agencies to developers,” said John McNab, spokesperson for Save Our NTC.
The school district also has the power of eminent domain, allowing the acquisition of open space for the construction of a new schools. Upon the completion of a new facility, the district can identify older buildings for closure and turn that land back over to the city, McNab noted.
“You've got a pattern here,” he said. “And the whole pattern is to make public property liquid.”
McNab also pointed out that the school board named retired Rear Admiral Louis M. Smith as executive director of Prop. MM Implementation. Smith was formerly the head of the Base Reuse and Closure Commission and, incidentally, signed off on the NTC deal.
Retired Navy Rear Admiral Veronica Froman was hired as the San Diego Unified School District's chief business officer in September 2001. Froman was director of chief of naval operations in Washington, D.C. and in charge of administrating shore facilities in San Diego, making her the chief liaison between the city of San Diego and Admiral Smith.
“It's a logic pattern,” said McNab, “you have the exact same players involved in the city schools now, and it's all set up to that.”