On March 17, Sweetwater trustees will vote on whether or not to sell district property deemed "surplus."
The property, located at 435 Third Avenue in Chula Vista, was originally purchased for new district headquarters; proceeds from the sale will go toward the purchase of new district headquarters.
Many voices have been raised against the plan to build new offices on the east side of Chula Vista; the location is not central to the sprawling school district, which encompasses not only Chula Vista but Imperial Beach, San Ysidro, and National City.
The district has been deficit-spending for years and is facing the possibility of a teachers strike — why buy new headquarters now?
Another question about the land deal — was the process that declared the Third Avenue property “surplus” questionable?
In dealing with surplus land, the state education code reads, “It is the intent of the legislature to have the community involved before decisions are made about the use of surplus property….” The code goes on to say this is to assure the new use is “compatible with the community’s needs and wishes.”
Yet, from the get-go, Sweetwater hired high-priced consultants to entitle the land for an apartment complex. The public meetings held regarding the Third Avenue property were all in relation to the preselected option — high-density apartments.
The trustees — including Arlie Ricasa, who stepped down as a result of a plea deal — selected five people to sit on the committee. Sweetwater’s director of state and federal programs, Ramon Leyva, and superintendent Ed Brand also appointed a member. So far so good, as education code says there must be no fewer than 7 and no more than 11 appointees.
The committee met only twice — but there were never 7 members. Pearl Quinoñes’s appointee, Jimmy Delgado, never showed and never turned in a conflict-of-interest form.
Delgado’s absence skewed the committee, but not only in relation to numbers: according to the education code, the committee should have represented the community in various ways, including ethnicity. Seventy-five percent of the students in Sweetwater are Hispanic, yet only two members on the committee were Hispanic — Delgado was one of them.
Delgado was also the only teacher appointed to the committee — the code specifically mentions teachers as part of the representative group.
Committee members are also required to file a conflict-of-interest form. On December 5, 2013, the six-member committee voted to recommend to the trustees that they declare the property surplus, but none of the committee members turned in the requisite form until after the vote.
The committee’s chair was Kevin O’Neill. His conflict-of-interest form states that he owns three pieces of property on Roosevelt Street, which is directly across from the district’s Third Avenue property.
Normally, the clerk of the board reviews the conflict-of-interest forms, but according to the Reader’s public-record request, Brand reviewed the forms for potential conflicts.
Another question being asked: why did trustee John McCann appoint David Malcolm to the committee?
Malcolm, who does not live in the district, was a former port commissioner who was forced to step down because of conflict-of-interest issues in 2002.
(Some speculate McCann hoped for Malcolm’s support in his bid for a city-council seat in June. Malcolm sits on the Lincoln Club board of directors.)
More notable is Malcolm’s history with this same piece of property: a Union-Tribune article from 1988 documents a feud between Sweetwater and the City of Chula Vista over this same location. Malcolm was a Chula Vista councilman at the time. A realtor sued Malcolm for “intentionally interfering” with a “complicated land deal with Sweetwater.”
Eventually, the suit against Malcolm was dropped.
Although the trustees have not voted to put the property up for sale yet — it is already listed with Voit Realty for $7,950,000.