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Pacific View property will be arts-only focused and city run, Encinitas council decides

Pacific View Elementary School, pictured before renovation projects began, closed in 2003.
Pacific View Elementary School, pictured before renovation projects began, closed in 2003.
(UT file photo)

Staff given direction to create cost estimates, timeline for getting existing buildings open

In the interest of getting something happening faster at the old Pacific View School property, Encinitas will pursue an arts-only focus for the site and drop the longstanding plans for ecology programs, the City Council decided last week.

The city also will stop looking for a private, nonprofit partner to run the place and pursue renovating the existing buildings, rather than replacing them, council members agreed.

Noting that it’s been seven years since Encinitas purchased the long-closed elementary school and the place still hasn’t been put to public use, Mayor Catherine Blakespear declared that it was time to downsize the plans and regroup. She suggested using the site only for arts activities and said they should choose ones, such as a museum or arts education classes, that can be done without triggering major state coastal permitting requirements.

Council members Tony Kranz, Joy Lyndes and Joe Mosca said they didn’t want to drop the ecology portion of the plans forever, but said it was a good move in the short term.

“I like the direction I hear my collegues advocating for,” Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze then said, commenting that the arts focus alone would offer many different opportunities.

The school, which closed in 2003, occupies a prime coastal hilltop along downtown’s Third Street. When the city purchased the 2.8-acre property, city officials said it would become a self-sustaining, independently funded facility and they began looking for private, nonprofit partners to run the place.

In response, a coalition of Encinitas arts enthusiasts and nonprofit groups formed an organization known as the Encinitas Arts, Culture and Ecology Alliance and created an extensive plan for the site. The group’s planning document included everything from composting classes and farmers’ markets to artist studios and sales booths, some of which wouldn’t have been permitted outright under the site’s existing zoning.

Alliance members worked for years to make their dreams a reality and have estimated they added about $1 million in value to the property, mostly through volunteer labor. But, after failing to win city Planning Commission approval for permits that would have allowed them to host money-generating, special events on the site, group members ultimately asked the city to step in.

At last week’s council meeting, some alliance members cheered loudly when the council unanimously voted to direct city staff to downsize the plans, create building renovation cost estimates, and plan for the city to manage the site, rather than a private entity. Several said they thought the council was making the right move and the decision meant that something was “finally going to happen” at the site.

“This community is so ready,” artist Danny Salzhandler said, noting that having arts programming at the site has been suggested for two decades.

However, a few people said they were saddened to see the ecology elements eliminated from the plans.

“I think we’re missing an opportunity if we exclude the ecology piece,” Jessica Toth, executive director of the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, told the council.


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