At the regular November 20 Sweetwater Union High School district meeting, lame-duck trustees authorized the district to proceed with entitling 1130 Fifth Avenue in Chula Vista for 135 townhomes.
The project, which is called the Cove, is scheduled to replace the current district office; however, trustees had agreed to halt all real estate projects until an independent third-party review could be conducted of the district’s asset utilization/real estate plan.
The plan seeks to ready three properties for high-density development and flip them to a developer; the plan also consists of acquiring new district office space in eastern Chula Vista.
In August, following a closed-session meeting, Sweetwater’s interim superintendent Tim Glover made this statement regarding the district’s decision to suspend the controversial real estate plan: “We have heard you [community advocates who opposed the plan] today; we’ve heard about your request for transparency and for third-party validation.”
The November 20 agenda called for ratifying “a contract with BRG Consulting, Inc, to provide environmental planning services for the entitlement zone change for district property [1130 Fifth Avenue].”
Tom Calhoun, Sweetwater’s chief facilities officer, originated the action. The starting date for the agreement was November 7, 13 days before the trustees ratified the action.
Community advocate Maty Adato opposed the $93,000 expenditure. She asked the trustees, “Why are you not letting the new board do this? If they want to have that property rezoned, let them do it. I don’t get why you’re not even discussing it.”
There was no discussion, just unanimous approval by board president John McCann and four interim trustees.
In an email on November 23, the Reader queried the district about the consultants hired for the project. The district’s chief financial officer, Karen Michel, responded November 24:
“I contacted Mr. Calhoun and he indicated the [BRG] Butler Burgher Group (of whom Chris Roach is the Senior Managing Director), is not connected to E2ManageTech.”
The Reader also asked why this item was sent to the board when the trustees had declared they would wait for a third-party review.
Michel replied: “It is true that an independent review of the asset utilization plan was approved by the Board of Trustees and moving forward with the plan has been suspended pending completion and report to the public of that review.
“However, the environmental planning services related to 5th avenue has the board's approval [on Nov 20] to move forward in light of a grant offered through the City of Chula Vista for $68k+. The grant will mitigate costs and will expire at the end of November.”
Paula Hall, who was recently elected to the Sweetwater board from area 5, offered this comment on the decision:
“I believe the interim board did what they felt needed to be done based on what must've been presented to them in closed session meetings, however, they were interim and the new board is set to take office in the 14 days the action seems very untimely.
“Without the complete knowledge of all the various legal issues it is hard to see why this train continues to hurtle down the tracks of no return. It would have been prudent for the board to stop with ANY spending related to property until the new board is ready to make those decisions.
“The newly elected representatives must be allowed to learn the facts and gain a good understanding before putting any further obligations on the district's limited resources without full disclosure to the school communities and taxpayers. Understandable that for many it again feels like some faction is pressing urgency on such decisions,. It does appear as a rush to action without public disclosure or discussion.”
Some months ago, on July 21, the Cove townhouse project was introduced to neighbors and community members. Many who attended the meeting opposed the project. Problems with parking and traffic were among the reasons cited for opposition.
A recent Reader public record request yielded an email that demonstrates the dubious data-gathering required by the city and the district for traffic that might be generated by the townhouses.
The consultants working on the Cove’s entitlements for the last few years, E2ManageTech, billed the district for two counting devices purchased from a Big Five Sporting Goods store.
When the district questioned the bill, E2ManageTech consultant Daryl Hernandez wrote:
“With respect to your question regarding invoiced charges for mileage and counters, please note that the City of Chula Vista informed us that we could forgo an expensive detailed Traffic Study for the 5th Avenue Property if we can demonstrate that the current number of vehicles entering/leaving the property is greater than the projected number of vehicles after the property is redeveloped [for 135 townhouses].
“So, rather than hiring an Engineering Traffic Consultant, we found it would be more cost effective to purchase the traffic counters and to send one of our in-house junior engineers to do the traffic count requested by the city.”