The Balboa Park Conservancy acknowledges that San Diego High School has been located on park lands since 1892. The City and School District entered into a lease agreement in 1974 with the stated intent of the lease to return the site to the City for park purposes in 2024 when the lease expires; however, there appears to be consensus among the School District, City officials and many in the community that continuation of San Diego High School in its current location would be the best use of the 34-acre site in the foreseeable future.
Balboa Park north of the freeway is only half developed today; development of those areas of the park should be the higher priority rather than the displacement of San Diego High School in 2024. Therefore, the Conservancy agrees that a new lease for San Diego High School is the appropriate course of action. A new lease would provide the opportunity for the community to determine at its termination whether or not San Diego High School in its current location would be the best use of the site at that time. Dedicated park land is precious, and dedicating any park land for non-park uses is a decision of major consequence. Today’s citizens should not bind the priorities of generations to come especially in light of the significant projected growth in the downtown population and the ever-increasing need for park land throughout the urban area.
The Conservancy also believes that the School District should provide lease payments to the City during the term of the lease with those revenues dedicated as additional City investment in the maintenance and development of Balboa Park for the benefit of all citizens. The high-end value of the lease payment would be represented by a fair market value appraisal of the land given the term of the lease. A discount from fair market value may be appropriate given the School District’s investment in the site but it would be only fair to San Diego citizens that a significant lease payment be provided and that those funds be used for the park. And, the lease must have a clear termination clause if the District were to cease operation of a classroom-based high school campus on the site.
The Conservancy also believes that the City Charter should not be amended with respect to the continued use of the site by San Diego High School. The Charter already provides for use of park land for non-park purposes with a 2/3rds vote of the electorate, a high threshold extremely important to maintain with respect to dedicated park land. This super-majority vote should be achievable with the strong and expected support of the Mayor and Council, the stakeholders of Balboa Park, the School District, and the community at large. To think otherwise is to question the appropriateness of the School District’s continued use of the site.
If, instead, the City Council’s desire is to act immediately with a ballot measure to permit continued use of the site by San Diego High School with a 50% plus one vote of the electorate, the most appropriate Charter amendment would provide that the non-park use of the San Diego High School site may be authorized by a vote of 50% plus one of the electorate but not have the electorate actually approve that use in the same ballot measure. A ballot measure providing for a 50-year lease of the San Diego High School site for a public high school could be placed separately on the November ballot or, more prudently, the lease of the site could be placed on a subsequent ballot after the lease terms have been negotiated. There is a City-wide ballot in 2018.
Lastly, as San Diego High School is likely to remain within Balboa Park for the foreseeable future, the Balboa Park Conservancy urges a greater level of collaboration between the school and the cultural and environmental learning organizations in the park. The school’s proximity to the park allows for a potentially fruitful and extensive partnership that should be maximized for the learning opportunities it affords the student body. Further, we strongly support development and maintenance of a more park-like setting for the students at the school and as a desirable complement to the park’s arrival experience.