On January 26, Sweetwater Union High School District’s facilities director Tom Calhoun sent an email to Marc Litchman that surprised many.
Litchman holds the title to some Sweetwater property through the nonprofit corporation known as California Trust for Public Schools. In the email, Calhoun announced that the district was proceeding with real estate development plans and putting out an RFP (request for proposals).
Many thought the plans were on hiatus while the new board studied the situation.
The district has three pieces of property in Chula Vista that Sweetwater’s last administration worked feverishly to entitle in order to flip to real estate developers for high-density housing. The properties were located on Third Avenue, Fifth Avenue, and L Street in western Chula Vista.
The Fifth Avenue property currently houses the district office and bus yard. Third Avenue and L Street were ostensibly acquired for new district headquarters.
Shortly after the newly elected trustees were seated at the beginning of the year, they held a public workshop on the real estate plans, also known as an “asset utilization plan.” A consultant group, Keyser-Marston, provided a third-party evaluation of the plan, and found a number of flaws.
Some properties were overvalued, none of the prices included demolition or environmental remediation, multi-family design concepts that the district paid a high price for were deemed financially infeasible — and when all was said and done the district’s Fund 40 account (which funds the projects) would be $5.4 million in the red.
Board president Frank Tarantino stated at the time, “We are taking our time to learn as much as we can about the issue and we are committed to finding a solution that is in the best interest of the Sweetwater District and the entire community.”
Many community members construed these comments to mean that not only did the new board not intend to move forward with the purchase of a new office at this time, but also that the new board was studying the problems and the speculative deals were on hold until further notice.
The January 26 email from Calhoun to Marc Litchman contradicts this assumption:
“…The District just completed a review of our property asset utilization plan by a third party who recommended we continue with the entitlement process. This was presented at a Board Workshop on the AUP on 1/12/15. We will be issuing an RFP to engage a firm to continue the work that had been started by E2ManageTech.” (E2ManageTech initiated many of the real estate plans critiqued by Keyser-Marston. The district broke with them in September of last year.)
Interim superintendent Tim Glover was copied on the Litchman email, but no trustees were.
Right after the email, January 29, an announcement went up on the district website for a public hearing to be held at the district office on February 5. The stated purpose of the hearing was to discuss “District Plans to Rezone the District Administration and Operations Center property to R-3 Multi-Family Residential Use.”
When queried by the Reader on January 29, trustee Paula Hall said that she was unaware of the email or of the public hearing announcement until she received a phone call from a concerned resident. Because much of her information regarding the property was presented in closed session, she was unable to comment further.
Trustee Frank Tarantino said on February 1 that he had not seen the email until the Reader copied him in a query. When asked if this meeting would fulfill the city requirement toward re-zoning, Tarantino said he wasn’t certain and referred the question to the interim superintendent. Tarantino also provided this response:
“In terms of the property issues that confront the district, since taking office on December 5, 2014, the Board continues to evaluate all options to assess and hopefully resolve our long-standing property issues…. We learn more with each closed session and public meeting/workshop presentation...we continue to work with our legal advisors and staff to identify the best resolution for the district, its students and the community.”
The Reader asked Glover to clear up some of the confusion about the property deals. Specifically, would the February 5 meeting constitute another official step in the re-zoning process with the City of Chula Vista?
Glover was also asked to clarify whether or not the district had continued to work on the property deals since November, and if the district intended to put out a request for proposals as indicated in the Litchman email.
Glover's responses clarified a lot: unbeknownst to the public and some trustees, the real estate/asset utiilization plan has continued apace:
The Sweetwater Union High School District ended its relationship with E2 Manage Tech in September 4, 2014.
In November 2014, the district’s board of trustees re-engaged a firm to work on the Fifth Avenue property. In order to access grant funding available through the City of Chula Vista and help defer some of the costs in the entitlement process, the Sweetwater trustees ratified a contract with the Butler Roach Group (BRG Consulting Inc.). BRG Consulting is currently working with the district to finish Step 1 of the zoning change.
Since November of 2014, the district has continued to move forward on the land exchange that is legally mandated under the agreement [with California Trust for Public Schools/Plan Nine Partners] made in 2005. This is a multi-step process and we are currently in the very early stages of this process.
The meeting on 2/5/15 is being held as a requirement in the zone change process as mandated by the City of Chula Vista….