Key vote looms on uses, financing for Pacific View property

A City Council meeting that will determine a high-level vision and financing plan for the Pacific View property is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 22 at City Hall.

First, the council will consider whether to pursue taxable bonds for the Pacific View purchase. Taxable bonds are more expensive than tax-exempt bonds, the original financing method, but would allow more flexibility on future uses.

Some background: The city is looking to finance the deal by selling $13 million in bonds, with $10 million for buying the closed Pacific View school site and $3 million for a new Moonlight Beach lifeguard tower. City staff estimates that a tax-exempt financing plan would add $789,000 to the city’s annual debt service — money for paying down interest and principal — for the next 30 years.

But city staff unexpectedly revealed two months ago that the tax-exempt approach would restrict future property uses. So, for instance, the council probably wouldn’t be able to rent the property to certain kinds of businesses if using this type of financing, staff noted.

Wanting to keep the city’s options open for what happens at Pacific View, a council subcommittee made up of councilmembers Lisa Shaffer and Teresa Barth recently endorsed taxable bonds.

“They give the city more flexibility over the short term and long term,” Barth said last week. “And right now, the interest rates between the two types of bonds aren’t significantly different.”

Locking in taxable bonds would add $835,000 to the city’s annual debt service over 30 years, an increase of $1.38 million compared with the tax-exempt method over the life of the bond.

Second, the subcommittee is also recommending that site uses in the interim and long term revolve around the themes of arts, education and community gathering, emphasizing theaters, museums, education, outdoor sales/swap meets and park/recreation space. Given the site’s public/semi-public zoning, those activities would be allowed “by right” or with a permit.

A subcommittee meeting two weeks ago discussed how the 2.63-acre site’s zoning prohibits uses like pottery studios. For those activities to occur, the city would have to seek a zoning change, which requires a public vote because of Proposition A.

Another subcommittee recommendation: direct city staff to analyze the viability of using the school buildings for various activities. The school there, built in the 1950s, closed more than a decade ago.

Also, Shaffer and Barth initiated a separate agenda item to try to obtain a $500,000 grant from ArtPlace America to fund a master plan for the site.

Scott Chatfield, who started the campaign SavePacificView.org to keep the site in the public’s hands, said last week the Pacific View deal has been more complex than he ever imagined, given the zoning and financing questions. Nonetheless, he believes the acquisition was worth it, adding that the community’s excitement is palpable.

“I know we’re nowhere near the finish, but the community is still largely very much behind this dream,” Chatfield said. “And I’m more excited and confident about it than I’ve ever been.”

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