News

LASD to sell density rights to fund new school

District officials say getting developers to pay for unused development rights needed for a San Antonio school

After securing the support of the Mountain View City Council last month, the Los Altos School District has been quietly laying the groundwork to shift nearly 600,000 square feet of development in the San Antonio area in order to build a new school within the city limits.

Using a complex process that still needs final approval from the council, school district officials detailed Monday night how they plan to buy expensive land for a school in the San Antonio area and "sell" the development rights for any unused square footage to offset the costs. Developers who buy these so-called development rights could build offices or homes elsewhere in the city that are denser or taller than what would normally be allowed

The school district is expected to release the names of the developers who are interested in buying the rights early next month, as well as identify the properties in San Antonio the district plans to pursue purchasing. Depending on the price of the land, which can range from $10 million to $15 million per acre, the school district could potentially offset the entire cost of land by using the transfer of development rights (TDRs), making it financially feasible to construct a school campus north of El Camino Real.

The Los Altos School District's boundaries encompass a swath of Mountain View and close to one-third of its students are Mountain View residents.

At the Nov. 13 board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Randy Kenyon said the district is seeking between 6 and 10 acres of land within the San Antonio Precise Plan area, which includes the shopping center and adjacent properties along Showers Drive, California Street and San Antonio Road. If the district manages to buy eight acres and build a 75,000-square-foot school, Kenyon said, that still leaves 570,000 in unused square footage that could be sold to Mountain View developers like Google to the tune of $130 per square foot -- adding up to a grand total of $74 million. Areas where the development rights could be used could include North Bayshore, East Whisman and El Camino Real.

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The cash windfall would make it possible to buy land in an area where real estate is going for a premium and where rapid development is taking place -- both complicating factors forcing the school district to act fast and cut costs using roundabout strategies like selling developer rights. The district has its own source of cash for a new school, a $150 million bond that voters approved in 2014, but it would be entirely exhausted by the land purchase and the construction costs.

At the Oct. 3 City Council meeting, Los Altos school board member Bryan Johnson said the district needs the "maximum flexibility" possible, including the ability to convert residential square footage to office space, in order to woo Mountain View developers and shore up as much money as possible to offset the cost of land.

Council members generally agreed, though they did not take a formal vote, to allow Los Altos School District to use the transfer of development rights to build a school in the area with few strings attached, and signaled they were willing to commit up to $23 million in funding to help finance shared-use park space in the area.

San Antonio has the lowest park acreage per resident in the entire city, at 1.34 acres per 1,000 people.

San Antonio developers cry foul

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Although Mountain View City Council members roundly supported transferring density out of the San Antonio area, two major developers in the region were less than thrilled with the idea, and have demanded that the city go through a formal precise plan amendment before allowing it.

Barton Hechtman, a lawyer representing Greystar, told council members on Oct. 3 that the city has an obligation to study the impacts of density transfers on the San Antonio area, particularly in light of the housing crisis. Greystar currently has a proposal under review by the city to replace the Old Mill office site and former Safeway site, and Hecthman said the property owners have no interest in selling the land to the school district.

Hecthman also warned that eminent domain law does not permit the school district to acquire land with the intent to sell the property rights, and that the developer and property owners would legally challenge such a taking of the property. Even if the school district ultimately wins the day in court, it would take years and be costly, he said.

"We believe that other possible acquisition sites could be obtained in a much shorter time frame with more certainty and less risk," he said.

Merlone Geier, which has redeveloped a major section of the San Antonio Shopping Center in recent years, sent a letter to the city earlier this month claiming that it would be harmed if development under the San Antonio Precise Plan could suddenly be pulled out of the region and injected elsewhere in the city. Keeping density within San Antonio is an important part of revitalizing the area, the letter states, and it would harm the company's huge investment if the city strays from the precise plan's zoning.

The letter goes on to say that Merlone Geier would be interested in buying up density rights from the school district if TDRs were allowed only within the confines of the San Antonio Precise Plan, provided that the company is granted the latitude to build up to seven stories, pick the commercial-to-residential density ratios and essentially "bank" the development rights "to sell to other ... landowners in the future."

The only trouble is that the only remaining place for Merlone Geier to add density is on the corner of California Street and San Antonio Road, which the letter says is "complicated" by parcels owned by Dave Pilling and Steve Rasmussen, the owner of the Milk Pail market.

"It remains to be seen if we can complete the land assemblage, despite further efforts of late to provide a relocation alternative to the Milk Pail," Merlone Geier representatives wrote.

Slow to start

The Los Altos School District successfully passed its $150 million bond measure more than three years ago, but still doesn't have much to show for it. A rigorous master plan showing upgrades at existing school sites has yet to be developed, and there isn't a detailed design drawn up for what the new campus will look like either. The school board has yet to officially say whether the new school would be a district-operated elementary school or the new campus for Bullis Charter School -- something Mountain View City Council members said the district should decide on its own.

District staff and board members say there's been a rigorous and exhaustive search for a suitable school site going on, and that all of the major decisions about the size of the school, the permanent facility plans for Bullis and the design can only fall in place once the location has been selected.

Even finalizing the agreements to transfer development rights has been delayed. The school district was expecting to have the letters of intent -- agreements essentially saying a developer wants to buy increased density from the school district -- ready to go by the Nov. 13 board meeting along with an agreement with the city of Mountain View to formally allow the transfer of development rights. That date has since been pushed back to the Dec. 11.

"Because of the complexities involved in partnering with several different developers ... it is taking longer to get firm commitments than originally assumed," Kenyon told board members.

During the search, there has also been lengthy debate over the last three years on whether land acquisition is really the best course of action. Some district residents, as well as representatives from Bullis Charter School, banded together to form a group called Creative Facilities Solutions, which argues that the bond money could be better spent converting one of its larger school sites, like Covington Elementary or Egan Junior High School, into a two-school campus with staggered start times to avoid major traffic snarls.

Kenyon said that reconfiguring an existing school and constructing new facilities on the same site may not be the money-saver people think it is. He told board members that it could cost an estimated $77.7 million to build a two-school site at Covington and $78.6 million for a two-school site at Egan or Blach Intermediate schools.

Superintendent Jeff Baier told the Voice that district residents still mostly favor the school district's strategy to buy land in order to accommodate growing enrollment. He said the district's Enrollment Growth Task Force, Facilities Advisory Committee and Facilities Master Plan Committee all agreed that the district needs to expand its footprint and acquire one -- or even two -- new school sites. Future enrollment growth is largely expected to occur north of El Camino Real in the San Antonio area, making it all the more desirable to have a school in the area.

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Kevin Forestieri
Kevin Forestieri is an assistant editor with the Mountain View Voice and The Almanac. He joined the Voice in 2014 and has reported on schools, housing, crime and health. Read more >>

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LASD to sell density rights to fund new school

District officials say getting developers to pay for unused development rights needed for a San Antonio school

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Mon, Nov 20, 2017, 9:57 am

After securing the support of the Mountain View City Council last month, the Los Altos School District has been quietly laying the groundwork to shift nearly 600,000 square feet of development in the San Antonio area in order to build a new school within the city limits.

Using a complex process that still needs final approval from the council, school district officials detailed Monday night how they plan to buy expensive land for a school in the San Antonio area and "sell" the development rights for any unused square footage to offset the costs. Developers who buy these so-called development rights could build offices or homes elsewhere in the city that are denser or taller than what would normally be allowed

The school district is expected to release the names of the developers who are interested in buying the rights early next month, as well as identify the properties in San Antonio the district plans to pursue purchasing. Depending on the price of the land, which can range from $10 million to $15 million per acre, the school district could potentially offset the entire cost of land by using the transfer of development rights (TDRs), making it financially feasible to construct a school campus north of El Camino Real.

The Los Altos School District's boundaries encompass a swath of Mountain View and close to one-third of its students are Mountain View residents.

At the Nov. 13 board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Randy Kenyon said the district is seeking between 6 and 10 acres of land within the San Antonio Precise Plan area, which includes the shopping center and adjacent properties along Showers Drive, California Street and San Antonio Road. If the district manages to buy eight acres and build a 75,000-square-foot school, Kenyon said, that still leaves 570,000 in unused square footage that could be sold to Mountain View developers like Google to the tune of $130 per square foot -- adding up to a grand total of $74 million. Areas where the development rights could be used could include North Bayshore, East Whisman and El Camino Real.

The cash windfall would make it possible to buy land in an area where real estate is going for a premium and where rapid development is taking place -- both complicating factors forcing the school district to act fast and cut costs using roundabout strategies like selling developer rights. The district has its own source of cash for a new school, a $150 million bond that voters approved in 2014, but it would be entirely exhausted by the land purchase and the construction costs.

At the Oct. 3 City Council meeting, Los Altos school board member Bryan Johnson said the district needs the "maximum flexibility" possible, including the ability to convert residential square footage to office space, in order to woo Mountain View developers and shore up as much money as possible to offset the cost of land.

Council members generally agreed, though they did not take a formal vote, to allow Los Altos School District to use the transfer of development rights to build a school in the area with few strings attached, and signaled they were willing to commit up to $23 million in funding to help finance shared-use park space in the area.

San Antonio has the lowest park acreage per resident in the entire city, at 1.34 acres per 1,000 people.

San Antonio developers cry foul

Although Mountain View City Council members roundly supported transferring density out of the San Antonio area, two major developers in the region were less than thrilled with the idea, and have demanded that the city go through a formal precise plan amendment before allowing it.

Barton Hechtman, a lawyer representing Greystar, told council members on Oct. 3 that the city has an obligation to study the impacts of density transfers on the San Antonio area, particularly in light of the housing crisis. Greystar currently has a proposal under review by the city to replace the Old Mill office site and former Safeway site, and Hecthman said the property owners have no interest in selling the land to the school district.

Hecthman also warned that eminent domain law does not permit the school district to acquire land with the intent to sell the property rights, and that the developer and property owners would legally challenge such a taking of the property. Even if the school district ultimately wins the day in court, it would take years and be costly, he said.

"We believe that other possible acquisition sites could be obtained in a much shorter time frame with more certainty and less risk," he said.

Merlone Geier, which has redeveloped a major section of the San Antonio Shopping Center in recent years, sent a letter to the city earlier this month claiming that it would be harmed if development under the San Antonio Precise Plan could suddenly be pulled out of the region and injected elsewhere in the city. Keeping density within San Antonio is an important part of revitalizing the area, the letter states, and it would harm the company's huge investment if the city strays from the precise plan's zoning.

The letter goes on to say that Merlone Geier would be interested in buying up density rights from the school district if TDRs were allowed only within the confines of the San Antonio Precise Plan, provided that the company is granted the latitude to build up to seven stories, pick the commercial-to-residential density ratios and essentially "bank" the development rights "to sell to other ... landowners in the future."

The only trouble is that the only remaining place for Merlone Geier to add density is on the corner of California Street and San Antonio Road, which the letter says is "complicated" by parcels owned by Dave Pilling and Steve Rasmussen, the owner of the Milk Pail market.

"It remains to be seen if we can complete the land assemblage, despite further efforts of late to provide a relocation alternative to the Milk Pail," Merlone Geier representatives wrote.

Slow to start

The Los Altos School District successfully passed its $150 million bond measure more than three years ago, but still doesn't have much to show for it. A rigorous master plan showing upgrades at existing school sites has yet to be developed, and there isn't a detailed design drawn up for what the new campus will look like either. The school board has yet to officially say whether the new school would be a district-operated elementary school or the new campus for Bullis Charter School -- something Mountain View City Council members said the district should decide on its own.

District staff and board members say there's been a rigorous and exhaustive search for a suitable school site going on, and that all of the major decisions about the size of the school, the permanent facility plans for Bullis and the design can only fall in place once the location has been selected.

Even finalizing the agreements to transfer development rights has been delayed. The school district was expecting to have the letters of intent -- agreements essentially saying a developer wants to buy increased density from the school district -- ready to go by the Nov. 13 board meeting along with an agreement with the city of Mountain View to formally allow the transfer of development rights. That date has since been pushed back to the Dec. 11.

"Because of the complexities involved in partnering with several different developers ... it is taking longer to get firm commitments than originally assumed," Kenyon told board members.

During the search, there has also been lengthy debate over the last three years on whether land acquisition is really the best course of action. Some district residents, as well as representatives from Bullis Charter School, banded together to form a group called Creative Facilities Solutions, which argues that the bond money could be better spent converting one of its larger school sites, like Covington Elementary or Egan Junior High School, into a two-school campus with staggered start times to avoid major traffic snarls.

Kenyon said that reconfiguring an existing school and constructing new facilities on the same site may not be the money-saver people think it is. He told board members that it could cost an estimated $77.7 million to build a two-school site at Covington and $78.6 million for a two-school site at Egan or Blach Intermediate schools.

Superintendent Jeff Baier told the Voice that district residents still mostly favor the school district's strategy to buy land in order to accommodate growing enrollment. He said the district's Enrollment Growth Task Force, Facilities Advisory Committee and Facilities Master Plan Committee all agreed that the district needs to expand its footprint and acquire one -- or even two -- new school sites. Future enrollment growth is largely expected to occur north of El Camino Real in the San Antonio area, making it all the more desirable to have a school in the area.

Comments

Missing Comments
another community
on Nov 21, 2017 at 8:39 pm
Missing Comments, another community
on Nov 21, 2017 at 8:39 pm

Outstanding article detailing all the various claims by those perpetuating this scheme. To me, it's a scheme, because it's so complicated and convoluted. I could understand this if the motivation was to actually build an elementary school for those living in this area, but the fact that they say they may well not use it for those kids. I'm glad the article mentioned the city council endorsing a local-serving school. The interesting thing is that the Charter School that serves all of the LASD territory is already the closest school for elementary kids in this area. It's already very nearby in Los Altos just up San Antonio at W. Portola Avenue. So one possible use is to relocate these kids very close nearby and consolidate with their 2nd site over in South Los Altos. They already have 900 kids in attendance split 600 or so at W. Portola and 300 or so on Covington near Grant Road.

But consider that these kids travel from all over LASD in Mountain View including the Grant Road area and the Blossom Valley/Springer area and from all over Los Altos and Los Altos hills. Where's the logic at locating their single school clear at the far end of the district in the San Antonio area? How much Park will be possible with a 1000+ student school on less land than LASD typically uses for 500?

I do wish the article made it clear that their options are for 1 normal size school for the local area or a DOUBLE size school for the charter school serving 20+ times more area. The impact on the San Antonio area is obviously greater with a 1000 student school than with a 500 student school..... but this is only the worst of the misleading plans from LASD.

Note the point made in the article about the lack of a completed Master Plan after more than THREE YEARS of waiting. They have no official statement that each student deserves equal treatment. They have said things about the San Antonio area kids having to settle for an inferior school site relative to outdoor play space. They make no plans to provide an after school care program on the new San Antonio site, which is found at every other school in Los Altos and Mountain View, regardless of district. Beware of LASD's misleading and incomplete plans!


Reader
another community
on Nov 21, 2017 at 9:45 pm
Reader, another community
on Nov 21, 2017 at 9:45 pm

The LASD Board of Trustees seems to be completely out of their league in what they are trying to do here. Just watch. This will be the most expensive K-8 school in state history! And at the end of the day, nobody will be happy with it.


CeliaCai
The Crossings
on Nov 22, 2017 at 2:31 pm
CeliaCai, The Crossings
on Nov 22, 2017 at 2:31 pm

It does not make sense to move Bullis to the area. We need a neighborhood school, not Bullis!


school financing effect (MVWSD)
Cuesta Park
on Nov 27, 2017 at 9:12 am
school financing effect (MVWSD), Cuesta Park
on Nov 27, 2017 at 9:12 am

If the development rights are sold and attach to an area of MVWSD that is is the Shoreline Community quasi-redevelopment district, there will be 0 dollars and 0 cents guaranteed to the future General Fund of the MVWSD! Why, the 1969 special legislation setting up Shoreline diverted ALL NEW property tax revenue into Shoreline.

The City should restrict the transfer of those rights to "property outside the borders of Shoreline's district." Only then will MVWSD be guaranteed all the new development money it SHOULD HAVE from any new construction.

The City Council - may legally restrict its offer of shared use park land money ONLY TO A NEIGHBORHOOD USE SCHOOL, and not a charter school.

Sunset On Shoreline!


SDR
Monta Loma
on Dec 4, 2017 at 3:56 pm
SDR, Monta Loma
on Dec 4, 2017 at 3:56 pm


Why should the rest of Mountain View pay for LASD problems? I might be okay with this plan if the San Antonio area would get a neighborhood school, but it looks like that they want to use this site for the charter school. So really just moving traffic out of Los Altos and into Mountain View -- Nice!

I am concerned that LASD has been given the green light to dump on MV. Moving higher density housing, and addition students over to MVWSD. Also, does this mean that LASD gets to move school drop off congestion out of Los Altos and into Mountain View? If so, I urge the Mountain View City Council to not support this plan. They should but the charter school on land that they already have, no reason to mess up MV.


Many of us commute through this already very conjested area, -- now it will be jammed with school drop off traffic. Get your act together City Council. Reject this plan.


Traffic Congestion
another community
on Dec 5, 2017 at 10:34 pm
Traffic Congestion, another community
on Dec 5, 2017 at 10:34 pm

No, no, already 600 kids who live north of El Camino Real in LASD, which is
in Mountain View commute across El Camino Real into Los Altos. This just
duplicates that situation, meaning DOUBLE traffic for 600 kids
driving on the streets to go 2 or 3 miles to school. Most of this traffic
from the Mountain VIew kids is in Los Altos because the schools
are so far away from the border! Now add in 900 new kids, coming from all across
Los Altos and into Mountain View. Once again 90% of the route
is in Los Altos, not Mountain View.

You're being too narrow focused if you think all the traffic is in the areas of
Mountain View around San Antonio. MOST of the traffic effect is on
Los Altos. 1500 kids will be crossing El Camino Real on 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 mile
routes to get to school each morning and back again in the afternoon. Only
1/4 mile or so will be in Mountain View. So rest easy.


LASD community member
The Crossings
on Dec 11, 2017 at 3:47 pm
LASD community member, The Crossings
on Dec 11, 2017 at 3:47 pm

I respectfully see things differently from some of the commenters above. This isn't about re-locating the specific charter school who choose to establish itself in Los Altos. The district didn't approve the school, didn't ask for it, and has had to spend millions of dollars to try to protect the "local" LASD students from being negatively impacted. If LASD were really happy to give the charter school special rights and status, they would have done so years ago, and not have spent all that money in legal fees. Don't take my word for it, as a careful review of the history shows that the last thing LASD has done has been to willingly give the charter school privileged status or extra rights. LASD has paid all the legal costs, and fought this battle, at no cost to Mountain View. A lot of people have issues with the fact that the charter school is closest to the Mountain View LASD students, and is not open to Mountain View residents automatically, myself included. But remember that LASD CAN'T make the charter school do anything, especially something that will benefit the district students as a whole. If you are not okay with the situation, please blame the people who are actually responsible, and contact the charter school directly to discuss your concerns.

Mountain View isn't being asked to "pay for LASD problems." LASD is trying to HELP the students who are in LASD, but happen to live in Mountain View AS WELL. Those students deserve a school in their neighborhood. Traffic congestion unavoidably increases when ANY school is opened at a site, but that doesn't mean that site isn't an overall good thing for students and their families who would not have to travel past San Antonio.

We've been working on this for years, and finally it looks like it might come to fruition, and North of El Camino LASD students may finally get the local school I think they deserve. I wish we could all get behind that.


@LASD Member
another community
on Dec 12, 2017 at 3:03 am
@LASD Member, another community
on Dec 12, 2017 at 3:03 am

No, you miss the point. To give LASD a sweet deal on land in the LASD district near San Antonio, Mountain View is talking about inflicting relocated growth from that area on ANOTHER part of Mountain View, not part of LASD.
That's the issue with shifting cost burdens.

You are wrong that LASD has had to spend extra for the charter students. On the contrary, each LASD resident student at the charter school costs LASD about half as much as it spends on students at its traditional schools. The charter school students would be at various LASD schools if they weren't at the charter. This is a standard condition in nearly every school district in the state. Charter schools are everywhere, and they SAVE the taxpayers money. LASD has made some really stupid moves in spending on legal fees to try to get out of SHARING the facilities that have been paid for by the residents with all the public school kids in the district. LASD claims it is special, and should get out of normal obligations. The only thing different is that in most district you don't find charter schools that serve about 20% asd many students as all of the traditional schools combined. There is TONS of interest in the charter program among all LASD eligible students.


Impact on neighborhoods
another community
on Dec 12, 2017 at 1:39 pm
Impact on neighborhoods, another community
on Dec 12, 2017 at 1:39 pm

Just to be clear, the LASD plans are to sell 610,000 ft of deelopment rights.
In place that would have been 75%+ new housing and 25% commercial, with
a preference by the city toward keeping retail vs. adding office space.
LASD's TDR sale list shows keeping 150,000 in the San Antonio area but
selling it entirely for new office development. Of the 460,000 other TDR's
at present 12,000 would go to North Bayshore offices, 10,000 to housing
in East Whisman and 438,000 to new office space around the East Whisman
area. So, that's a LOT of added workers commuting into the city each day,
around 2200, over near Ellis Street and 237 down to Central Expressway/Evelyn.

So in San Antonio, subtract 450,000 sq ft of new residencess (1000 residences).
Add 1000 new students commuting to school. About even. Hardwire
150,000 sq ft as offices vs. retail. Get a park.

In the rest of the city, add in 2200 new workers that wouldn't have otherwise
been there, mostly all in one area of the city about to undergo a LOT of
new workers anyway, East Whisman/Ferry Morse.

So that's how Mountain View areas NOT in LASD are paying (suffering?) to
make a park and a school in the San Antonio area.


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