Most of the five candidates running for three open seats on the Encinitas City Council in November say the city paid far too much for the vacant downtown Pacific View School property, but all it can do now is try to make the best of it.
One candidate says she won’t second-guess the deal because she wasn’t active in city politics when the purchase was made in 2014. Another, who served on the city’s negotiating committee, said he believes Encinitas could resell the property for far more than its $10 million purchase price, if the city ever wished to get rid of it.
The hopefuls voiced their views during a forum hosted Tuesday night by the Leucadia-Encinitas Town Council. During the event, the two incumbents in the race — councilmen Tony Kranz and Mark Muir — sparred several times over the $10 million school purchase, which has long divided them. Kranz negotiated the deal and voted in favor of it; Muir opposed it, saying the price tag was too high.
On Tuesday night, Muir repeatedly said that he thought Kranz could have obtained a better deal and Kranz repeatedly said that he felt the city got an amazing piece of land at a reasonable price.
“The fact is that land is priceless,” Kranz said at one point, describing how the former school occupies a 3-acre coastal bluff site in the city’s downtown.
Muir said that the Encinitas Union School District would have sold it for less, and he ought to know — his wife served on that school board at the time. She’s now a member of the San Dieguito Union High School board.
“The reality is we paid way too much money for it,” Muir said.
Fellow candidates Phil Graham and Tony Brandenburg agreed with him. Graham, who has endorsed Muir, said the city shouldn’t have purchased the land because it didn’t have a plan for its use.
“If you were in business, you just wouldn’t act that way,” said Graham, a manager at a research facility who has stepped down from his job to seek elected office.
Brandenburg, a city planning commissioner and a retired judge, said he wouldn’t have agreed to purchase the property for $10 million, but added that the deal is done.
“There’s no backing up on this,” he said.
The final candidate in the race — Tasha Boerner Horvath, who serves on the Planning Commission with Brandenburg and has been endorsed by Kranz — said she wasn’t active in city politics when the council made the decision. She called it a difficult topic and said she wanted to look to the property’s future, not its past.
“We need to make this the best it can be,” she said, adding that she’s heard from people that there’s a lot of potential for the property which is proposed to become a city arts center.
The five candidates also divided along the same lines when it came to a question about reworking the city’s roadways to accommodate bicyclists. Brandenburg said the city should make its downtown pedestrian and bicycle friendly, but shouldn’t put bike lanes “all over the city,” particularly in the eastern, more rural regions because that could impact commuter vehicle traffic.
“You’re absolutely right,” Graham said, indicating that he was surprised to find Brandenburg shared his view.
Muir said he thought bike lanes wouldn’t work in some neighborhoods.
Kranz said Encinitas needs to pursue bicycle route projects that connect the city’s eastern edges to the coastal, north-south railroad corridor trail project, which the regional San Diego Association of Governments is funding. Boerner Horvath agreed, saying people east of Interstate 5 would like to bike to the beach.
There was one area where Brandenburg disagreed with all of the other candidates — he opposes Measure T, the city-sponsored housing plan that’s on the November ballot, saying there’s no guarantee that it will add any much-needed, low-income housing to Encinitas. The other candidates, who have all supported the measure, said Tuesday that it complies with state law and will help keep the city from getting sued by developers.
Henry is a freelance writer in Encinitas