City Council Moves To Save San Diego High School
Current San Diego high school students joined with alumni at a city Council hearing Tuesday. The issue was whether San Diego high school would be allowed to stay in Balboa Park into the future. The school has been at the same site for 134 years, it's coming to the end of the 50 year lease. When the lease ends, the agreement says the schools should be demolished and the site turned back to Park use. The city Council is moving forward with the charter amendment, asking for voter approval to allow San Diego high school to remain. I spoke with City Councilman David Alvarez, who attended San Diego high school. You pushed for this charter amendment to save the school. Why do think it's important? The history of San Diego high school goes back 130 plus years, 1880 the first public high school in San Diego, one of the oldest in the state, certainly a lot of tradition and history at San Diego high school. More important than that, going forward in the future of San Diego, as areas like Downtown continue to grow, Logan Heights and Sherman Heights, that I represent, Golden Hill, North Park and South Park. A lot of families moving in, there needs to be certainty for where their high school will go. It's currently a great school, ranked nationally, it's one of the top 100 in the country. The tradition -- the tradition of education opportunities and pure necessity for all these families, we have to keep the school open and keep it at its current site. There's no way we can rebuild the school, it takes over 30 acres of land. We aren't going to find 30 acres of land anywhere near downtown San Diego. It's important that we keep it where it is. What would this amendment do? Currently, because it does officially sit on Balboa Park land, it's not allowed to exist past the current lease, per the charter requirements. This would change the charter would be an amendment to a charter to specifically and only for the purposes of San Diego high school, allow the high school to continue to exist on its ground. Currently the charter says, only parts -- Park's uses are allowed. This would be a change to the charter, that would say San Diego high school and only San Diego high school can continue its presence on Park land. Not everyone is pleased about changing the city charter. Is there any other way? We could go through a legal fight, like we did in the 1970s. That would be very costly to the city and the school. It would also be costly to the taxpayers, that's would fund both sides of this. This is a way to make it happen, so it doesn't cost folks as much money as a legal battle. It would allow for a lot more certainty and at a time when the school district is looking to invest around $30 million, to the school, touring -- to improve facilities, it makes sense to have that certainty now as this lease that we are under is going to expire in the next seven years. The certainty is important for purposes of planning and reinvesting in the school facility and the buildings. It certainly important for the schools that feed into San Diego high school. The city would in essence, be given a large piece of Park property to the school. What kind of compensation with the city get? It wouldn't be a giveaway, it would still be a lease and the way the charter change is or charter amendment is to allow a lease to occur, that would be negotiation that has to happen between the school district in the city for the use of the land, just like with their is for other land with the city owns. That negotiation needs to occur, at the end of the day, what the Council's message was yesterday, across the board, this is the right place for the school to remain, we will see if the voters agree. We will be going to the ballot in November and it will require 60% approval, I think people will see that this makes the most sense. It's not like the city is sitting on money to pay to take down the school, which would cost in the tens of millions of dollars. We have deferred maintenance at Balboa Park with our existing facilities, we don't want to add another obligation to the city, that we can't take care of. I've been speaking with City Councilman David Alvarez. Thank you very much.
The San Diego City Council on Tuesday directed the city attorney's office to draft ballot measure language that would allow San Diego High School to continue operating at the current Park Boulevard location after its lease runs out in 2024.
The question will have to go to voters because it would require a revision of a section of the City Charter — San Diego's primary governing document — that specifies that park lands be for park uses. San Diego High School, which opened as the Russ School in 1882, sits on the southwest corner of Balboa Park but is nearing the end of its 50-year lease.
That lease states that the 34-acre campus would return to dedicated parkland when it expires.
"It might seem like a long time until 2024, but if you have a child entering first grade and we do nothing to continue the operations of the school, then that child will not be able to enter (San Diego) High School by that year," said Councilman David Alvarez, who represents an area that sends numerous students to the school.
The direction came on a 7-1 vote, with council President Sherri Lightner opposed, saying it would create a "loophole" that would jeopardize the protection of parkland from development.
"(The) San Diego Unified School District entered into a lease with the city in 1974 which recognized that the school is illegally operating on city park property," Lightner said. "The intent of that lease was to give the San Diego Unified School District 50 years to come up with a new location for the school."
She, and even some council members who voted in favor, noted that the district has wasted most of that time.
Lightner reiterated that she also supported San Diego High remaining where it is, but "strongly" opposed changing the City Charter. She suggested other remedies were possible, including a ballot measure calling for a simple lease extension.
District Trustee Richard Barrera said that if the issue does reach the ballot, the district will share in the cost.
David Lundin, president of the Balboa Park Heritage Association, said he would go to court if necessary to stop a charter amendment from being placed on the ballot.