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On Point: SunCal and the schools

Submitted by on 1, December 10, 2009 – 5:50 amNo Comment

By Rin Kelly

apOver here at The Island, we’ve focused a lot of attention on the polite-but-pointed war of words between developer SunCal and Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant over SunCal’s ballot initiative for development of Alameda Point. But while all that was going on, another battle was brewing between SunCal and the school district – one that was only hinted at in the terse letter parents received from Superintendent Kirsten Vital last week saying the parties have so far failed to come to an agreement about what schools need to be built in order to educate the proposed project’s future student residents.

In a pair of letters sent in October and November to SunCal’s Pat Keliher, school district counsel Danielle Houck expressed concern that the development initiative, Measure B, “does not adequately address the project’s impact on the school district” and that the developer has failed to follow through on promises to address such matters in writing.

“Although you verbally responded that many of the District’s concerns were unfounded,” wrote Houck on November 24, “your letter of October 30, 2009 did not specifically refute any of the issues. I asked that you provide us with a written response for the Board’s consideration at tonight’s meeting. As of this date we have not received the requested written response from SunCal.”

According to Houck’s letters, the district and SunCal have not yet reached an agreement on where or when schools would be built – or who would cover what the district has characterized as shortfalls in the funding district leaders said they’d need to pay for them.

According to the district’s preliminary estimates, the cost to buy land and build schools for the 1,650 new K-12 students district officials believe the development would generate could exceed $100 million. And they don’t think the funding they’d get, which includes state grants and $25 million from the developer, is enough to cover the tab.

Location is also an issue. In laying out its sites for “civic” or “other” uses – the initiative doesn’t specifically designate land for schools nor guarantee that schools will be built – SunCal has chosen one area that sits below base flood elevation and another that the district claims is heavily contaminated and unlikely to be suitable for a school without major cleanup. And Houck said the initiative is silent on who would be responsible for those costs.

And Houck wrote that the proposed sites aren’t centrally located in the areas where homes will be built, and she questioned whether SunCal’s land plan would conform to state guidelines as a result. “For these reasons, the School District is skeptical that the relevant permitting authorities would approve the construction of new schools in the event that SunCal chooses to use the civic sites for construction of public schools,” she wrote.

SunCal spokesman Joe Aguirre declined to comment publicly on the developer’s student population projections for the Point. But Aguirre said that in addition to the $25 million in impact fees, the project does provide approximately 25 acres for schools and would generate more than $1 million a year in parcel tax revenue for the school district.

As to the district’s cleanup cost concerns, Aguirre said the Navy is responsible for cleaning up below-ground contamination and that SunCal “will pay for the above-ground cleanup, including lead-based paint and asbestos.” And he said the developer “will be required to mitigate for flood, including the effects of sea-level rise on the site.”

And he expressed confidence the placement of schools would not run afoul of the state, saying SunCal reviewed state guidelines and has “many years of experience” with incorporating new school sites into its communities.

Negotiations between developer and district continue, though Vital told the district’s parents that she is not optimistic that agreements will be reached before voters have their say on Measure B, on February 2. (Early voting begins January 4.)

For his part, Aguirre said only that the there are many steps the developer must take subsequent to the election should the initiative pass, and that the measure “has nothing to do with SunCal’s ability to enter into agreements with the school district.”

As always, stay tuned.

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