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The Escondido City Council on May 22 voted 4-1 to lease a portion of the city’s East Valley Community Center to Heritage Digital Academy, a charter school.

The ten-year lease includes 20,000 square feet of the community center — the former branch library space — at a monthly cost of 83 cents per square foot. Over the lease period, the $1.8 million of lease revenues will be deposited into the Recreation Enterprise fund.

Heritage Digital Academy will invest approximately $1.25 million in tenant improvements to build out their needed classrooms. After substantiating the improvement expenses, the city will credit the academy 25 percent, or approximately $312,000, spread out over the lease term. Existing tenants, including Education COMPACT and a hair/nails salon, both long-term tenants, will be relocated with as-yet undefined aid from the city and the academy.

With an overflow crowd in the chambers, 48 speakers — including a tearful salon owner who occupies one of the storefronts — spoke emotionally yet mostly respectfully during the public hearing portion of the discussion.

Carmen Novice stated, “This is not a referendum on the merits of the organization negotiating the lease; I am frustrated that the city is offering to lease community space in [the community center] without properly consulting the tax-paying public…. It is a serious problem that this unduly rushed negotiation — the city is evicting a successful nonprofit organization and several small businesses.”

From a different perspective, resident Roberto Rocha said, “I have a six-year-old and an eight-year-old in Heritage school. The reason we put them there is that we had a choice. We wanted something better for our children: a first-class education. If they are able to expand and create more classrooms, [the school] can help the community even more.”

Prior to her dissenting vote, deputy mayor Olga Diaz stated, “There are other ways to solve your space dilemma that don’t include having to supersede the existing uses of [the community center]. Many years ago, a previous city council purchased the building for use as a community center. I don’t think it upholds the bargain that the council made to spend tax dollars to create a community center that will no longer be available as a community center.”

Just prior to the vote, mayor Sam Abed said, “We are leasing just the remainder of the vacant library; no part of the community center will be used by the school. The previous library belongs to the community, so the money from the rents will go into the recreation budget.”

Abed and the council committed the city to financially help the businesses displaced from the move to relocate.

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