PUSD begins negotiations for leasing land near Westview to Costco

YJ Si, Editor-in-Chief

The northwest corner of Camino del Sur and Carmel Valley Road in Black Mountain Ranch, which could potentially be leased to Costco. PUSD approved to begin negotiations Sept. 10. (Photo by YJ Si)

The Poway Unified School District (PUSD) board of education approved a plan Sept. 10 to begin negotiations with Costco to lease their surplus property of 27 acres at Black Mountain Ranch southern site. The plan for the lease comes in response to a rising cost of education. According to PUSD board of education trustee Darshana Patel, these costs include deferred facilities maintenance, increasing underfunded mandates and sustained general underfunding. The lease with Costco would last up to 60 years, starting at $2 million per year and eventually increasing to $4 million annually.

With Governor Gavin Newsom’s revised budget funding districts based on the previous year’s enrollment numbers, PUSD’s slight rise in enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year means that the district is receiving less funding per pupil than last year.

According to Patel, PUSD has a structural deficit within its general fund. If the property were to be sold, the proceeds would be limited to a capital facilities fund, which can only be spent on facility needs. However, through a grounds lease, the district can provide additional funding for its general fund. In addition, she said, a lease would allow the district to have ongoing revenue but still retain ownership of the land.

According to Patel, PUSD currently has an agreement with SDG&E on a short-term lease for the site, while the utility company uses it as a staging area for its high transmission power line infrastructure project. The agreement was approved Aug. 9, 2018 and is valid through Aug. 21, 2021. If the board takes no action, the lease converts to a month-to-month basis at that time.

Foundations for an electrical substation as part of SDG&E’s high transmission power line project. SDG&E currently has a short-term lease with PUSD that will convert to a month-to-month basis Aug. 21, 2021. (Photo by YJ Si)

Patel said that the board of education has not yet received a final offer of terms for the Costco lease. If an action item on the lease were to be presented and approved by the board, there would be at least a two-year process to finalize the lease. This would include a recommendation from the San Diego Planning Department after an Environmental Impact Report along with traffic and fire safety studies. Then, the item would head to the San Diego Planning Commission followed by a vote by the City Council. In accordance with Proposition A, the lease would then be on a ballot for a city-wide vote. 

If approved, Costco plans to build an “urban village” with retail, restaurants, housing complexes, and a warehouse. 

There has been strong backlash among many Torrey Highlands and Black Mountain Ranch residents, many of whom have expressed their disappointment in not being informed of the conversations leading up to the deal. As of Oct. 20, a petition to oppose the lease has gained 2,657 signatures.

“We just want to be part of that process, bring us to the table, give us a voice, let us share with you what our opinions are,” Poway resident and parent Gianni Nguyen said to local news stations.

Patel said she believes that much of the controversy comes with a misunderstanding of the topic. She said that there is conflicting information among the communities impacted. While the Torrey Highlands and Black Mountain Ranch community plans say the land was intended for a school, the board has never planned to do so.

According to Patel, there will be a community meeting on the lease before the deal comes to the board for a vote. The meeting will allow community members to share their concerns and have their questions answered, but the approval of the final negotiated terms will still be up to the board. Patel said that the board has not yet seen the final offered terms, so the lease could still be rejected if it is not considered beneficial.

Patel said that the community meeting on the lease will be held the week of Nov. 26.