After Monday night, the San Carlos City Council may not know whether it wants to swap, sell or lease land with its elementary school district but members hope there is at least a clearer path carved out.
The council must decide by August whether to put on the November ballot a measure allowing the city to abandon the Crestview Drive property as park land and potentially use it for something else. The council indicated a preference to do so at its last meeting and on Monday night will again revisit the possibility.
Councilman Bob Grassilli said he hasn’t changed his mind since then but wants to hear from both city staff and the public before pulling the trigger. That said, he still leans toward heading to the ballot as a way not to limit future decisions about the land.
“I always like options. The more options the better,” he said.
But running parallel to a decision about the ballot is whether the city simultaneously wants to discuss what could ultimately happen if voters agree to change Crestview Park’s zoning designation.
The City Council has a minimum of nine options to consider for the North Crestview site: make no change; retain ownership and improve it as a park and sports field; trade for the Tierra Linda site through a combination of land and money; trade for the school site and sell it to a developer for new single-family homes; sell Crestview to the district outright for a charter school; sell Crestview on the open market to a developer for housing; sell it on the open market for the highest offer; lease the land to the school district; or use the land for an Interstate 280 connection.
The San Carlos Elementary School District has a deadline of November because of requirements on spending 2012 bond funds which it hopes to use to build the Charter Learning Center on the city parcel on North Crestview. The school would house up to 400 students and free up space at Tierra Linda Middle School in return for giving the city land near the campus which it could use for park needs like a soccer field and gym. The district wants a city decision sooner rather than later so that, if that answer is no, it can look elsewhere to build.
The district Board of Trustees met Thursday night to discuss possible alternatives such putting a third school at Tierra Linda, building at Arundel or putting the charter at Heather, said Board President Adam Rak.
On Friday, Rak said there was no direction on alternatives but the board wants to make a decision on alternatives by the end of June. In the meantime, Rak said the district will get more information from a traffic study and get more data on the cost of each option.
“I’m really hoping Monday there is some clarity given to the community,” Rak said. “The council sounds like they want to go to the voters to decide so hopefully they can give more shape to what that vote looks like.”
A huge hurdle aside from some neighborhood opposition is the fact that the city parcel is worth more than the school land and the city doesn’t have the millions of dollars needed to develop the space into a full park with athletic fields.
Mayor Mark Olbert, a very vocal proponent of the district’s proposal to swap the city’s Crestview land for its piece above the Tierra Linda campus, said City Manager Jeff Maltbie has suggested negotiating an agreement ahead of the potential vote contingent upon its success on Election Day.
With the district anxious for a decision and a lengthy to-do list required for the switch — environmental review, for one — Olbert said it would be problematic to hold off on discussions about the outcome until after voters weigh in.
“There is a tremendous amount of work between now and November and there are practical implications,” Olbert said.
Rak said negotiating an outcome now lets the district do environmental review and soil sampling on the parcel now which, with November the end of the district’s timeline, is preferable to rushing after Election Day.
“Have an underlying contract in place also gives confidence to people that if they vote to switch the park land what the intent is,” Rak said.
Going forward, Olbert also wants to make sure the community feels it has had adequate say.
“The worst thing that could happen is we end up doing something and there’s grumbling that the process sucked because their voice didn’t get heard,” Olbert said.
Olbert said Monday’s meeting isn’t necessarily the time to choose a ballot measure but is a chance to figure out what path forward the city wants to take.
For Councilman Matt Grocott, that path is first asking voters what they want before tackling the question of the final outcome.
“It has the appearance of being complex but the first question to ask the voters of San Carlos is what they want. From there you can go down the road and meet a fork and that fork is whether to do something with the school district. From there, there are three forks: leave it as park land, develop it for housing or some such thing or trade to the school district to build a school,” Grocott said.
Grocott pointed out that the parcel was designated park land 30 to 40 years ago and a lot can change in the meantime.
“Let’s find out what the residents want now,” he said.
The San Carlos City Council meets 7 p.m. Monday, May 12 at City Hall, 600 Elm St., San Carlos.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102