Winston School files lawsuit against Del Mar over lease termination

Winston School
On Aug. 30 Winston School students walked down the block to a “Meet the Mayor” event after school was over to protest the lease termination.
(Luke Harold)

The Winston School filed a lawsuit against the city of Del Mar last week in an effort to overturn a recent City Council decision to terminate the school’s lease effective July 2023.

The city owns the Shores property where the school, which serves special education students in grades 6 to 12, is located. The lease between the two sides required the school to submit a complete redevelopment plan by Dec. 31, 2019, but that deadline was extended multiple times.

When city planners said the school’s plan was still incomplete after the latest deadline on July 23, the council held a special meeting in August and voted 4-0 to terminate the lease. City Councilman Dave Druker was recused because he lives near the property.

But school officials have said the multiple plans they’ve submitted to the city since the process began meet the criteria in the lease.

“Winston has gone above and beyond its obligations under the lease, at great cost, only to have the City engage in bad faith tactics to prevent Winston from succeeding,” Dena Harris, head of school, said in a statement.

The school alleges in its lawsuit that the city “manipulated its regulatory power to constantly change the criteria used to evaluate Winston’s redevelopment applications—often imposing new criteria that was unsupported by the lease terms or the City’s own municipal code.”

According to a statement that the city posted on its website after the vote to terminate the lease, the school’s plans have fallen short of the necessary requirements — including bringing existing buildings into compliance with building code standards and addressing long-term parking needs.

The Winston School is also alleging in its lawsuit that the city wants to evict the school for the purpose of adding affordable housing on the Shores property.

“While the City may find it inconvenient to have Winston on this land, that does not give the City the right to breach a long-term lease and force a school for children with learning disabilities to move somewhere else,” the complaint said.

Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland denied that there was an ulterior motive for affordable housing when the council terminated the lease. Harris, along with a group of about 30 Winston School faculty members and parents, raised the same accusation during an impromptu protest in front of Gaasterland at a Meet the Mayor event in late August.

“I told them then, there are no plans for the land,” Gaasterland said. “I really hope that this is all resolved one way or another, sooner rather than later.”

The lease was originally supposed to run through 2063. The Winston School has been a tenant at the Shores property since 1988, and participated in the fundraising that helped the city purchase the property in 2008. The school’s fundraising total was used as rent credit that is supposed to last into 2023.

Del Mar interim City Manager Ashley Jones said the city did not have any comment on the case.