The council agreed to buy Pacific View — now what?


Some details of the Pacific View purchase still have to be ironed out for the property to change hands.

After months of negotiations, the Encinitas City Council recently voted 3-2 to buy the site — long floated as the best place for an arts or community center — from EUSD (Encinitas Union School District). However, don’t expect any city projects there right away.

The city is currently analyzing the condition of the soil and buildings on the 2.8-acre property, where Pacific View Elementary has sat vacant since closing more than a decade ago.

City Manager Gus Vina said if asbestos and other serious issues are found, council could ask the district to mitigate them.

“It’s like noting any flaws before you buy a home,” Vina said, noting the city is still in the due diligence phase.

The city is also working to finance the deal by selling $13 million in bonds, with $10 million for obtaining Pacific View and $3 million for a new lifeguard tower at Moonlight Beach.

The plan will add an estimated $733,000 to the city’s annual debt service — money for paying down interest and principal — for the next 30 years.

Vina said the city’s debt-management ratio is now at about 8 percent, still meeting the council’s goal of staying below 10 percent. He added the city’s AAA credit rating remains intact.

If financing can’t be obtained within a year, the purchase agreement specifies either the city or EUSD could terminate the agreement.

For years, council members and residents have advocated for transforming Pacific View, located on Third Street in downtown, into a community or art centers.

Nothing, however, has been set in stone.

Council will mull over an outreach process in the coming months to gain community input on what should be done with the property, both over the near term and further out.

The property could host a farmers market, art gallery or something along those lines in the interim while the city figures out a long-standing project, Vina said.

He noted the city is looking to hand over the check for Pacific View by November.

In the meantime, some residents have proposed a community clean up for the entire site. Worn desks, chairs and other artifacts are strewn about the schoolrooms. Graffiti covers the exterior.

Vina said such an effort would likely have to wait until the deal is complete and the city is given the keys.

The agreement between the city and EUSD comes after years of failed plans and back-and-forth debate over what to do with the property.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, the district voted to auction off the property to the highest bidder this past spring. But the city stepped in with an 11th-hour offer, preventing the auction.

Resident Scott Chatfield, who started, was instrumental in mobilizing support to stop the auction. He’s since turned his attention to ensuring the deal goes through.

“I’ve used a lot of train metaphors,” Chatfield said. “The one I’ve been using lately is that I want to make sure the train reaches the station.”

Also, last month he launched an open forum on his website — called Share Your View — allowing residents to submit ideas for the site.

“I’m just trying to get the conversation started,” Chatfield said.

While $10 million in financing buys the property, any improvements or facilities on the site will cost additional money.

Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz noted the council recently established a subcommittee to explore private fundraising to help pay for additional building costs and potentially other arts venues.

Other groups are also engaged in fundraising.

Notably, the nonprofit Encinitas Friends of the Arts formed to bring in donations for a city-owned arts center, with Pacific View being a possible candidate.

Those behind the nonprofit have stated the city needs an arts center, citing the high concentration of artists in Encinitas and the lack of venues.

For the city and arts groups to attract private funds, Kranz said the city must first develop a clear plan for Pacific View.

As a starting point for conversation, the city will study which kinds of arts programs are feasible at Pacific View, along with other potentials locations such as a vacant theater pad at Encinitas Ranch Town Center.

“Pacific View might be suited for more visual arts, and the pad could accommodate performing arts, but of course it’s early to say,” Kranz said. “The community will have to weigh in.”

John Britt, EUSD’s superintendent of business services, said the district hasn’t determined how to use the Pacific View funds. That conversation, he added, will take place once the sale is complete.

He said the Pacific View money could be injected into the district’s general fund on a one-time basis, though the State Allocation Board would have to approve such a transfer.

Otherwise, funds would go into capital improvement projects like buildings or playgrounds.

The council majority, which includes Kranz, has stated the Pacific View purchase was necessary to save the historic property, home to the 1883 schoolhouse. They’ve also said it’s a chance to showcase local arts and culture.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir opposed the deal. They believe the price tag is too high and the money would be better spent on roads and other infrastructure.

At a recent council meeting, Muir said, “whether we agree or disagree on the purchase price, I think we’re all united in making the community vision of the property a reality.