Residents rally outside Poway Unified office over potential Costco lease

Community members gather outside the district office on Oct. 15.
Community members gather outside the district office on Oct. 15 to protest the potential lease of a parcel of district land to Costco.
(Emily Sorensen)

About 50 parents and community members rallied outside the Poway Unified School District office before the Thursday, Oct. 15, board meeting, over the possibility of PUSD leasing a surplus property to Costco.

The group, which has formed the nonprofit Protect Our Community Now, said it wants answers from PUSD officials about the proposed privatization of a 27-acre plot of district-owned land designated for a middle school. The property is at the northeast corner of Camino del Sur and Carmel Valley Road. The district has declared it surplus and said a middle school is not needed at the site near Santaluz, Torrey Highlands and Rancho Peñasquitos.

Those gathered held signs and shouted slogans, asking the district to communicate with them, support “scholars, not dollars” and “do the right thing.” The group also chanted for the district to “correct that mistake,” “bring us in” and “let us help you.”

PUSD staff are proposing to lease the property to Costco for 40 to 60 years. The lease was proposed at the Sept. 10 board meeting, where the board members voted to explore the potential of a long-term lease with Costco Wholesale Corp., after putting out a request for proposals for the site. No agreement has been made with Costco and no lease has been signed.

The group requested for an item to be placed on the agenda to allow discussion with the board, but have been denied by the district at every meeting, said Jessica Vogelsang, a parent who lives in the area affected by the potential lease. There was no item on the agenda regarding the property for Thursday’s meeting. Vogelsang said the district denied the agenda item because it had nothing to say on the issue.

Vogelsang said she came out to the rally because this is a decision that will impact the community for the next 40 to 60 years, and the community has not had any input.

“All the decisions were made in the dark,” Vogelsang said.

Protect Our Community Now issued a letter outlining the community’s concerns on its website, It states residents of Torrey Highlands, Carmel Valley, Black Mountain Ranch (Santaluz and Del Sur) and other surrounding communities are concerned about the district’s lack of transparency and the public process surrounding this plan.

“The problem is the process,” Vogelsang said. “We need a voice in (the process). I don’t know what the best decision is. Maybe it’s a big box store, maybe it’s a school. But we need a voice in it.

Vogelsang said she first heard about the district leasing the land to Costco before the Sept. 10 meeting. A resident saw the item on the meeting agenda and posted it to NextDoor, where it soon drew over 1,200 people pushing against the lease.

The group wants to work with the district and for the district to be successful, because it is responsible for the education of their children, Vogelsang said.

“We want to work with them, but we’ve been stonewalled at every turn,” she said. “We’ll be here every meeting until they talk to us. … It’s a pandemic. We don’t have anywhere else to be.”

Vogelsang said the group members do not want to be out rallying during a pandemic, but feel the issue is serious enough to warrant the risk.