Mark McDermott

City, RBUSD land swap is dead

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Redondo Beach Unified School DistrictThe proposed property exchange between the Redondo Beach Unified School District and the City of Redondo Beach involving the South Bay Adult School has been taken off the table.

After four months of negotiations, district officials this week decided to end talks regarding the adult school site, which was formerly Edison Elementary School.

RBUSD Board of Education president Jane Diehl said the deal simply offered too little potential financial benefits to outweigh possible costs.

“An effective use of money is what we need to see, and there could have been some downsides that made this project not bring as much to the school district as we had hoped,” Diehl said. “The advantages were not great enough when you weighed all the factors.”

“It just didn’t meet the financial needs of the school district,” said RBUSD board member Todd Loewenstein.

The South Bay Adult School, located near the corner of Inglewood Avenue and Manhattan Beach Boulevard, was only one component of a complicated proposed land swap. Two other properties were involved: the school district’s property at 200 N. Pacific Coast Highway, which currently houses the Redondo Beach Police Department detective bureau and the RB Chamber of Commerce; and the former Franklin Elementary School at 801 Inglewood Ave., which currently houses the Redondo Beach Playhouse and a private school and is controlled by the city through a 99-year lease.

A Memorandum of Understanding signed by city and school district officials in June included the outlines of a deal that would have exchanged 200 N. PCH for Franklin. Additionally, the city tentatively agreed to use its Redevelopment Agency to lease or purchase the district’s property at 3401 Inglewood Avenue – home to the South Bay Adult School – for a down payment of $700,000 and to-be-determined ongoing payments. The idea was to facilitate building affordable housing at that site, utilizing Redevelopment Agency funds that will likely disappear by 2012 due to budget-induced changes in California law. The project would also have helped the city comply with state requirements for affordable housing.

But several thorny issues arose surrounding the Edison site. It was not entirely clear if the district would have been able to transfer the $2.7 million in Measure C bond funds allotted for that site in order to upgrade Franklin, which is currently in a somewhat dilapidated condition. Furthermore, a group of area residents staunchly opposed the inclusion of the Edison site in the deal, potentially exposing the district to a litigation risk.

Diehl said the potential costs were too great. “We were not only looking at financial costs,” she said. “We are also looking at costs to the community.”

Finally, it’s uncertain if city or school officials have the political will to fight for such a development, particularly in light of ongoing land-use battles with the citizen’s group Building a Better Redondo and other neighborhood groups that have sprung up to oppose housing projects. At least two councilmen, Pat Aust and Matt Kilroy, are gearing up to run for mayor, meaning an affordable housing project almost certainly would have become a hot-button issue. The project would have required both Board of Education and City Council approval.

Diehl praised the city for attempting to help the school district earn more revenue from its surplus properties.

“The city tried to do a good thing,” Diehl said. “It would have been good, but it wouldn’t have been good for us because we would have ended up in a mess, potentially.”

City Manager Bill Workman expressed disappointment. The city has more than $8 million in at-risk redevelopment funds that it hoped could be saved while simultaneously facilitating a deal that would help local schools. But Workman said that the city and school district would continue to discuss 200 N. PCH – where the city hoped to build a new police station — and the Franklin site.

“We’ve tried to work collaboratively with the school district for several years on different proposals, but we are very respectful of the prerogatives of the school district and will spend time talking to them about other properties and hopefully we can find something that is mutually acceptable,” Workman said. “We’ve always had productive discussions. Just getting to the finish line has always been the hardest part.”

Workman said two other properties not belonging to the school district had been identified as possible sites for the use of redevelopment funds.

“We’ve initiated Plan B and Plan C and we are looking at other properties here in the community,” Workman said. “Unfortunately, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to craft a plan that would help fund education at the school district through the deal. That is sort of the sad part of the end of negotiations with regard to the Edison property.”

RBUSD Superintendent Steven Keller said the district was already moving forward with plans to upgrade Edison with Measure C funds. He also defended the integrity with which Measure C funds have been used, something opponents to the Edison site proposal had attacked.

“Measure C has been transformative to this community,” Keller said. “Nobody should forget that. And it will continue to transform this community.”


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