Encinitas council supports local group’s Pacific View plan

A local proposal for the former Pacific View elementary site won the tentative support of the Encinitas City Council.

With five “letters of interest” on the table, the council on Sept. 23 unanimously backed the Encinitas Arts, Culture and Ecology Alliance, a coalition of local arts enthusiasts, business leaders and nonprofit representatives. Alternative rock band Switchfoot and pro surfer Rob Machado are involved in the Alliance, too.

Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear said it’s both thrilling and unexpected that so many Encinitas groups joined forces.

“When we bought Pacific View I really thought it was quite likely that we were going to be in for a long community fight over which arts group in our community was going to get this site,” Blakespear said.

The Alliance proposes to turn the Pacific View buildings and surrounding land into a hub for arts workshops, theater, cutting-edge gardening and agriculture, local history and cultural events. The space would be powered by solar and wind energy, taking advantage of the site’s location “on the edge of the Pacific Ocean,” states the plan.

The council is looking for an “operating partner” that will transform the spot into a community gathering space and oversee it. As a next step before inking a deal, the council asked the Alliance to come back with more information about how it would pay for its proposal.

Cost estimates to restore the Pacific View buildings and property range from $3.9 million to $4.4 million. And councilmembers said it’s likely the city doesn’t have a lot of money to pledge toward getting Pacific View up and running, so it would be up to the Alliance to raise most of the funds.

In its letter, the group outlines a financing strategy that includes grants, obtaining donations and crowdfunding. Group members have experience fundraising for local events like the Switchfoot Bro-Am, Alliance backers said.

Switchfoot bassist Tim Foreman said the band sees Pacific View as an extension of Switchfoot’s new pay-what-you-can music school for youth in downtown Encinitas.

“[It’s] a way to bring the arts back in our community,” Foreman said of the music school and Pacific View. “We’ve lost it a little bit in the schools, but here’s a chance to bring it back.”

Of the five letters of interest, city staff recommended the council also consider a joint plan from Radlab Designs and Sequoian Investments. The San Diego-based companies proposed to create an arts, dining and entertainment venue by fixing up the current buildings and also adding repurposed shipping containers that could house art galleries or retail shops.

Garth Murphy, who is heading the Alliance, said downtown needs more art, not more retail space. He compared the two companies’ plan to “the rich guy with the big car” that will eventually sputter out.

Murphy also said the Alliance has 50 members, from young to old, and with a wide range of skills.

“We think we definitely are the community choice,” he said.

John DeWald, president of the Encinitas 101 MainStreet Board, said the Alliance’s proposal has many challenges, adding the diverse team possesses the business acumen to overcome them.

The city staff report said as a positive Radlab Designs and Sequoian Investments are proposing to put up $2.875 million in financing for Pacific View, but that the project may be too large and thus out of character for downtown Encinitas and the neighborhood.

Councilmembers Lisa Shaffer and Mark Muir agreed, saying the Alliance proposal is a better fit for the city. Making the council’s decision easier, a representative from neither Radlab Designs nor Sequoian Investments spoke at the meeting.

To avert a planned auction, the city bought the 2.83-acre property, at 608 Third Street, from the Encinitas Union School District in 2014, a decision Councilman Tony Kranz called “a leap of faith.”

“We’ve taken a first big step toward validation of that leap of faith,” said Kranz, a vocal advocate of the purchase.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar said although she opposed the Pacific View deal on the grounds it was too expensive, she’s committed to moving forward with a project that reflects the community.

“This is the first time I’ve ever felt quite excited about the potential for the site, and it came from the power of collaboration,” Gaspar said. She added the Alliance has done its homework, including reaching out to community groups and neighbors who opposed prior project ideas for the property.

The council in July began seeking letters of interest for the property. Instead of the city completing the Pacific View revamp, the council previously approved the operating partner concept to speed up site rehabilitation.

The city requested proposals for an “interim use” of five to 10 years while a long-term Pacific View vision is developed. But Gaspar said she couldn’t imagine scrapping the Alliance’s proposal in five years.

“The types of things we’re looking at now look like a long-term use of the property,” she said, adding the “enthusiasm level has exceeded the interim use.”

Other members of the Alliance include Danny Salzhandler of the 101 Artists’ Colony, Carolyn Cope, the president of the Encinitas Historical Society, and Thora Guthrie, executive director of Encinitas 101 MainStreet.

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