Encinitas council agrees on Pacific View financing, uses

It appears the Pacific View acquisition, months in the making, is a done deal with financing recently agreed upon. Now, the Encinitas City Council is shifting its focus to which arts or community groups can set up shop there.

The council agreed on high-level uses for the site at the Oct. 22 meeting. And councilmembers voted 4-1 to lock in taxable bonds to pay for the $10 million purchase.

Taxable bonds will ultimately be $1.38 million more expensive than tax-exempt bonds, the financing method city staff originally put forward this past spring.

Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer, who sat on a subcommittee that endorsed taxable bonds, said going that route would provide flexibility on future uses and the difference between the rates of the two bond types was relatively small.

The city is selling $13 million in bonds, with $10 million for Pacific View and $3 million for a new lifeguard tower at Moonlight Beach. Taxable bonds will add $835,00 to the city’s annual debt service over the next 30 years, compared with $789,000 for tax-exempt.

Two months ago, city staff unexpectedly announced that tax-exempt bonds would restrict council plans to lease portions of the 2.8-acre blufftop property, which residents have long said should be converted into an arts or community center of some sort.

“Yes we know this should have been part of the original budget planning,” Shaffer said of taxable versus tax-exempt only being raised by city staff in September. “But here we are, and we need to move forward.”

Councilman Mark Muir, the lone vote against taxable bonds, said he’s a “tax-exempt kind of guy” and didn’t elaborate further on his reasoning.

It’s estimated the deal will close escrow mid-November. A public cleanup party to celebrate the acquisition is tentatively slated for January.

The council also supported the subcommittee’s recommendation that site uses in the near and long term should revolve around the themes of arts, education and community gathering. Specifically, this would include theaters, museums, education facilities, outdoor sales/swap meets and park/recreation space.

These activities would be allowed “by right” or with a permit under the site’s current public/semi-public zoning. A subcommittee meeting two weeks ago revealed the zoning prohibits uses such as pottery studios. Changing this would require a rezone, triggering a public vote due to Proposition A.

And the council agreed to apply for a $500,000 grant from ArtPlace America to fund a master plan for the site.

Because a master plan is a ways away, the council subcommittee will develop rental criteria and take proposals for interim uses. A future assessment gauging the condition of the buildings — a shuttered elementary school dating to the 1950s — will help inform this process.

Councilmembers said they’re especially interested in learning whether the buildings could be restored or if they have to be torn down to make way for new facilities.

Although the council has yet to officially invite proposals, several public speakers put forward ideas at the meeting. For instance, resident Bob Bonde advocated for converting the site into an arts and cultural tourism center while a long-term plan is developed.

Bonde call such a center “a facility where craftsperson not only work and display their finished products, but also one that encourages them to demonstrate the processes involved in producing their art.”

He first floated the idea last year, when councilmembers first sat down with Encinitas Union School District officials in hopes of buying the property.

In light of all the community interest already, Councilwoman Teresa Barth, the other subcommittee member, said the city likely won’t have any difficulty finding tenants.

Additionally, the council directed Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz to take Barth’s place on the subcommittee. Barth, whose term ends next month, decided last spring not to seek reelection.

“I want to thank everyone who’s been with us through this long journey,” Barth said.

Finally, the council, which has been divided on Pacific View, voted 3-2 once again — this time to officially sell $13 million in bonds for Pacific View and the Moonlight Beach tower.

In what has become an election issue, current Mayor Kristin Gaspar, who’s running for mayor, stated the money could have been better spent on roads and infrastructure.

In response, Kranz, another candidate in the mayor’s race and an advocate of the acquisition, said the city recently increased road repair funds and is fully funding core services.

“It’s a philosophical difference,” Kranz said.

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