Tom Calhoun and consultants present to the crowd
Remember Sweetwater Union High School District’s dalliance with the Christian University -- Grand Canyon, in January 2013? Remember when the district made a bid to take over part of the National City Adult Education Center for Alliant University in May 2013? Or when a district-hired detective knocked on the door of a woman who spoke out at board meetings in September 2013?
Many people thought that contentious relations between the district and the community were a thing of the past — gone along with former superintendent Ed Brand who was put on administrative leave July 3. But when Southwest Civic Association hosted a public meeting on the topic of Sweetwater’s latest real estate gambit – converting the school district’s headquarters into townhouses — a roomful of people realized the district was sticking to the same plans.
Most of the people who came to the July 21 meeting reside near the district’s proposed project. At the meeting, a consultant group called E2Manage Tech — hired by the district to entitle and design the project — gave the neighbors their first peek at the three-story townhouse proposal.
The project is in the first of three phases of enactment. Variations on floor plans were presented to the audience, but the basic concept is 135 units with landscaping, sidewalks, a tot lot, a pool, and a clubhouse.
People who live in the area of the proposed project expressed dismay about the density of the project and attendant problems: parking, traffic, noise, water consumption, and soil contamination from the district’s bus yard.
Chuck Diamond, one of the E2Tech consultants, was asked why the proposed development was so dense. “I was hired to increase the revenue [of the district],” he responded.
One meeting attendee said, “There will be 400 bedrooms and 270 parking spaces.” He argued that with that many bedrooms there would be a need for many more parking spaces within the complex and noted that the neighborhood was already saturated with cars parked on the street.
Diamond told the man that homeowners’ association rules would control parking. The audience quickly clarified that those restrictions would only control the parking inside the complex, not on the street.
Another attendee asked why, in the design, the pool was positioned on the outer edge of the units where the neighborhood would be affected by the noise.
Diamond’s response was that the project would lose density — and therefore revenue — if the pool were moved to the middle of the complex.
David Danciu, secretary of the Southwest Civic Association,
said that during his years in construction he had built similar projects.
Like those projects, he said, “this one lacks imagination and looks homogenized…. No matter what the profit level is the project should be revised to have less density and a lot more open space.”
Tom Calhoun, Sweetwater’s executive facilities director, said the district is trying to maximize profit in order to retire the debt on the L Street property, which is upside down in its mortgage. The district also wishes to generate money to buy a new district office on the east side of Chula Vista.
Calhoun said he expects the Fifth Avenue deal to net $6 million, but when the district entitles the L Street property for 369 mid-rise apartment units on the L Street property, he expects to generate $40 million.
To entitle the three district parcels, E2Manage Tech has had an $82,500 contract for three years. The entitlements for the Fifth Avenue project are complex and entail zone changes and a general plan amendment through the City of Chula Vista. The process — and the consultant fees — are likely to continue for several more years.
Many people at the meeting questioned whether E2ManageTech was also going to receive one-third of the profit as indicated in a 2011 “program participation agreement” signed by a district administrator. The consultants refused to answer the question. When Calhoun was asked the same question, he said, “I can’t read Chuck Diamond’s mind.” Calhoun also stated that it is the district’s position that the agreement is not in effect.
One of the neighborhood attendees asked, “Who decided to build town homes on this property and why?”
Why did the district hire pricey consultants to ready these properties for high-density housing when the community had not yet been consulted about their preferences?
California Ed Code 17390 says when a district has excess property there must first be a committee that is tasked with developing “a priority list of use of surplus space and real property that will be acceptable to the community.”