Regardless of whether the city of San Carlos or its elementary school district wants to swap land to accommodate a charter school and new athletic fields, voters may have the ultimate say on the matter.
The government code requires a ballot decision to convert land designated for parks into another use, according to City Attorney Greg Rubens.
That option, along with several others, will be up for discussion Tuesday night when the City Council holds a special study session on the proposed trade with the San Carlos Elementary School District.
The proposed swap is between the district-owned property at the top of the hill on the Tierra Linda Middle School campus for the city-owned land on Crestview Drive near Marigold Lane. The city would have a new spot for potentially more field space and the school district would have land to relocate the Charter Learning Center which frees up space at Tierra Linda for a fourth- and fifth-grade school.
The district has already held one public hearing on the idea and there is no definitive action scheduled by the council Tuesday night. However, that has not stopped opponents and proponents from lining up, adding more than 400 signatures to a pro-swap petition and flooding decision makers’ email boxes with arguments and pleas on both sides.
Heading into that meeting, Councilman Ron Collins said he’s looking to hear from the public about what residents want. A challenge, he said, is balancing the desires of the community with the city’s finances, the district’s wishes and the indisputable fact that more room is needed for students both present and future.
“It’s unavoidable. We have to put these kids somewhere,” Collins said.
But some Crestview residents would prefer not to have them there, arguing that a new school will bring with it traffic among other concerns and may not even cater to children who live in the city.
Collins also brings up another point — the school district may want the city’s land but does the city want the school’s parcel?
“If we take the land it might take $5 million to $15 million to develop and then we’ll need to buy a house to create egress and ingress and build possibly a gym or tennis courts. So what we get is a piece of land that we could maybe do something with but for what? We don’t just have $10 million laying around,” Collins said.
City Manager Jeff Maltbie estimates the cost of building a park at approximately $11 million with $129,000 in ongoing maintenance and management. The city doesn’t currently have those funds and would require a bond measure to tax to cover access and park facilities at Tierra Linda, according to Maltbie.
In March, the city received an $18 million offer by a housing developer for the land which was appraised last May at $13.5 million but Collins said that offer has now expired. Regardless, the higher offer is making some think that perhaps a straight trade with the school district wouldn’t be equitable.
The city could theoretically sell the land to the district at a price it can afford but Collins said then the decision is whether to take that money and buy something else or deposit it in the general fund.
While the first question for the city is whether it even wants to go ahead with some version of a land deal, the ultimate decision may come to voters.
The Crestview site acquired in 1974 is designated as park land in the city’s general plan and zoning map which means the council would need to declare discontinued use as a park is the public interest and call a special election for simple majority voter agreement. If passed, the city could then sell or trade the site. If it fails, the city must wait one year before going to voters again. Placing the matter on the November ballot is estimated to cost $32,000.
Adam Rak, president of the San Carlos Elementary School District Board of Trustees, prefers the city opt for a trade or sale rather than development of the land but said either way the district just wants an answer sooner rather than later so that it can look at alternatives.
“We’re the ones under the time crunch. They’re not. So the more they can work with us the better,” Rak said.
A specific timeline isn’t set but Rak said the district can have some patience if the city is headed in that direction.
Rak also points out that the city would need a referendum even if it preferred development to school facilities on that site — the question may be then what the community wants rather than what brings in the most dollars.
Rak hopes the council Tuesday night hears an outpouring of support and said a petition of support as of Friday had more than 400 signatures.
He understands some Crestview residents have worries such as increased traffic in the neighborhood but hopes for a collaborate effort to find mitigation steps.
“Clearly there will be a change if this goes through for the folks that live near Crestview and we’d like to continue to work with them,” he said.
The San Carlos City Council meets 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 22 at City Hall, 600 Elm St., San Carlos.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102