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La Jolla land under dispute

The long-time director of San Diego's Real Estate Assets Department recently resigned, following criticism about how the agency handles city property. An investigation by the Union-Tribune revealed th

The long-time director of San Diego's Real Estate Assets Department recently resigned, following criticism about how the agency handles city property. An investigation by the Union-Tribune revealed that the city doesn't have an accurate inventory of city land or know how it's being used. And that brings us to our next story about a long time battle involving a sandbox and a bike path. Reporter Karen Rostodha has the story.

Whether it's operating heavy equipment in silky princess attire or splashing in a vat of shaving cream it's all part of a day's play for tireless tots attending the nursery school at La Jolla Methodist church.

Lisa Bonebrake: "This is the most welcoming preschool that's I've ever seen so I felt really fortunate to have my boys here."


Lisa Bonebrake's boys have a great time at the preschool and like the other kids are unaware of the adult battle that's taking place behind the scenes. For eight years this church and preschool and the city of San Diego have been locked in a land swap dispute. Part of the church's property including the parking lot and sandbox is owned by the city and what's become a public bike path is owned by the church.

Don Rushing: "It is as simple as a land swap, the issue here is the church owns parcels that the city needs, the city owns parcels that the church needs."

Don Rushing is a church member and church attorney who's been working on this issue for years.

Rushing: "In 1959 the city decided to extend Fay Ave. from Nautilus along La Jolla Blvd. and they essentially took the property from the church as part of the transition. The city gave the church some land they owned along the old electric railroad right away that runs behind the church and the church gave the city for use as a street as a park along the Fay Ave. extension."

Rushing says that because the city never followed through on the street extension, the church continued using the land. Today, the church wants to expand and renovate the property and over the years has raised more than $100,000 for improvements like upgrading the playground.


Bonebrake: "There are so many new surfaces now that have come out for children that are so safe we can't put any new surfaces in underneath the play structures where they could fall and that sort of thing this sort of material that they are standing in under the monkey bars that's very safe we'd like to put it in other areas but because we don't actually own that property we can't get the permitting to do it."

That's because according to Rushing the City has refused to make the land swap contending its property could be worth a lot more than the church's if itwas valued as real estate property.

Rushing: "The sticking point always was that the church said we've got this promise from you use it only for street or park purposes and that's the way it ought to be valued and the City Attorney's Office and the Real Estate Assets Department always took the position that that promise was unenforceable in May of 2004 the city was given a demand letter by the church that said you must obey your promise you must follow your promise or we're going to have an litigate with you over this we've going to have to take you to court."

The church did and won. In April of 2005 a judge ruled that the original deed of trust between the city and church was still valid, and that the city's land must be appraised only for street or park purposes. While the City Real Estate Asset Office refused to comment on the story, City Attorney Mike Aguirre says his office is looking beyond the church issue.

Michael Aguirre, San Diego City Attorney: "What's happen over the years in all of these projects is that the city has repeatedly failed to insist that a market rate not one that violates any court order but a market rate in fact be paid and there's a lot of worthy causes you know this is another worthy cause but you know the sum total of that is we now have a city budget that is hundreds of hundreds of million of dollars in the red and so whereas this particular situation is sounds like to me we should be able to work something out and you know we're in the process of doing that."

To date the church has spent nearly $200,000 fighting the city.

Scott Peters, San Diego City Councilmember: "Those two have always been the hold up and we think the city attorney's office has always been giving us very conservative advice we actually made the church file a lawsuit against us to prove that the deed was valid they proved it and we still can't get the real estate department and the city attorney to sit down and say okay now we understand more about the value lets get the appraisal and make the trade

City Councilmember Scott Peters says he's had no luck in convincing the city attorney's office and real estate asset office to make the deal.

Peters: "I just want to say this has become a joke in La Jolla."

Rushing: "Next what happens is that we appraise that property with the covenants in place and we try and arrange a swap with the city with an appropriate valuation, a fair valuation where each side is exchanging equal value."

If the city refuses to make the land swap Rushing says the church has no choice but to move the playground up here onto the bike path and he says that means putting a fence around it and closing it off to the public and he says that seems like a lose-lose situation for everyone.

Parents like Rina Nordholm say the bike path is an important community asset.

Rina Nordholm, Parent: "It's very important we use it on a weekly basis I have two kids that use the pool up the way so we quite often use this as a means to get to and from the pool."

Bonebrake: "What's frustrating, what I don't understand as a member of my community, is why the city wouldn't just help us move forward when it's such a sensible land deal."