The proposed land trade between San Carlos and its elementary school district for a charter school campus died Monday night when Councilman Bob Grassilli cast the deciding vote that killed the possibility of rezoning of a North Crestview park on the fall ballot.
Grassilli voted along with Councilman Matt Grocott against overriding the protest of residents who believe the plan will increase traffic, eliminate precious open space and tax the city’s coffers building fields and fighting expected litigation by neighbors.
Grassilli called it one of the most difficult issues he’s wrestled with in his nine years on the council.
“I don’t make a decision in a vacuum or with preset prejudices,” Grassilli said.
The law required a four-fifths majority to go ahead if even one person filed a written protest. More than 600 did, including about 25 percent from non-residents.
Grocott has been the council’s most vocal opponent of the land swap plan because he said the park was created as part of a legal settlement and cannot therefore be altered. On Monday, he said he’d be willing to change his mind on abandonment if the city and school could clear up misconceptions about what the vote is and first evaluate the city’s general plan. The council should not be swayed by the district’s timeline, he said.
The question of who should decide North Crestview’s fate drew a large crowd. Meeting attendance spilled into two overflow rooms and many came with stickers or signs imploring “stop the swap” and “let us vote.”
Prior to voting, Grassilli said he could see a four-month campaign leading up to a November election being very divisive in the city of San Carlos pitting groups against one another.
Had voters been allowed to weigh in and agreed in November to rezone the North Crestview site, the tentative deal between the city and district called for the building of a new Charter Learning Center on the land. In return, the district would have given the city approximately 4 acres on the backside of Tierra Linda, a 2.9-acre open space piece adjacent to Heather Elementary School currently used as a dog park and $1.5 million to invest in a city-owned athletic field at Tierra Linda. If any of the three parcels in play were ever used or sold for development, the city and school would have split the profits.
Grassilli said the 50-50 split proposal was troubling to him because the value of the land traded may not be equal. The sale may have left one entity reaping a better financial windfall.
School officials say they cannot use the Tierra Linda land they own because they prefer a separate campus and traffic is already congested there.
Officials from both the city and district hustled to reach a tentative deal so that residents weren’t weighing in blind on the rezoning issue. However, several speakers said even with an advisory measure, there was nothing to guarantee the land, once rezoned, wasn’t sold or given an alternative use.
Resident Bob Black called the possibility highly unlikely but said the resolution as written left the door open.
“That is the essence of a disaster,” he said.
Tamara Galanter, an attorney for the opposing group Save North Crestview Park, told the council the proposed moved was not just a bad idea and bad policy but also illegal because the city needs an environmental review before going to voters. She also argued that the council must abandon the park if voters lean that direction which left last night’s meeting its only time to have a say.
“Really, this is your last opportunity to make a decision,” Galanter said.
City attorney Greg Rubens said there is nothing in the law that prevents the city from putting the land back into park use.
Many who favored the land swap said they understand neighbors’ opposition but said that the bottom line is there is nowhere else available to build a school in San Carlos. Some who opposed said they understand the need for a school but said the steep location is not the spot.
Councilman Cameron Johnson said both perspectives are valid.
“I think reasonable people can disagree on this,” Johnson said, adding that people have a fundamental right to vote.
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