Del Mar City Council terminates Winston School’s lease

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

After welcoming students back for a new school year, leaders at The Winston School will have to contend with the Del Mar City Council’s vote to terminate the school’s lease effective July 2023.

“We don’t have any defined next steps at this point as we evaluate the implications of their decision,” said Laura Cunitz, president of The Winston School’s board of directors.

The vote by the council during a special meeting on Aug. 11 followed more than a year of back and forth between the two sides since December 2019, the original deadline for the school to submit a development application to the city as required by the lease. The city owns the Shores property that the school is located on, and the city serves as the school’s landlord. The Winston School has been in its current location since 1988.

After a series of extensions, the final due date for the school to submit a complete application was July 23.

Del Mar City Councilman Dwight Worden said that the council had to make a “fairly narrow determination of whether or not Winston, as of July 23, had fulfilled their obligations under the lease.”

“I can’t conclude that they have,” he said. “I think the parking is still very unresolved under the lease and what we have as of the 23rd does not meet the lease standard of a major remodel.”

The city had granted multiple extensions for the school to submit its plans leading up to the final deadline last month. School officials have argued that they should have had more time under a provision in the lease that says “an act of God” and “epidemic” are grounds for extending redevelopment deadlines.

The school also sought mediation with the city under a dispute resolution provision in the lease. The city rejected the request for mediation because “the sections of the lease that were cited as the basis for mediation in Winston’s request were not applicable,” interim City Manager Ashley Jones said in an email.

“I think that we have worked for many, many months in extending deadline after deadline hoping this would come to a better conclusion,” Del Mar City Councilwoman Tracy Martinez said during the meeting. “But I think the question before us is pretty clear that they did not meet that deadline that they needed to meet.”

The council vote to terminate the lease was 4-0. City Councilman Dave Druker was recused from the vote because he lives near the school.

Jon Dominy, an architect with Domus Studio who has been working on The Winston School’s development plans, told the council that he and the school felt that all the requirements had been met.

“At this point, we feel like we’ve answered all the questions to everyone’s satisfaction,” he said during the meeting.

Officials from the school reiterated that position in a news release, and added that they were “shocked, appalled and dismayed” by the council’s decision.

“The Winston School strongly believes that we have met the terms of the lease and that our plans deserve approval,” Dena Harris, the head of school, said in a statement. “The City is acting arbitrarily, ignoring our efforts to meet the lease requirements. We were looking forward to the next step — preparing for construction. It is evident that the Council had made this determination before the meeting. The Council took less than 30 minutes to deliberate and vote to terminate the lease of their largest donor and essential partner in the purchase of the Shores property.”