Since its passage in 1981, the state law that allows cities to purchase surplus school sites at a discount has been the cause of confusion and controversy and has put a strain on the usually cordial relationship between South Bay cities and school districts. Now three proposed amendments to that law--including one that would repeal it--are further straining those relationships.
"This bill is going to become extremely political," Redondo Beach City School District Trustee Valerie Dombrowski predicted, referring to the amendment that would repeal the law. "It's going to be a power play for the cities."
Representatives of several South Bay school districts have already testified in support of the amendment, written by Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro).
But several city officials are now preparing to testify against that proposed amendment and another in the state Senate that would limit cities' zoning power over closed school sites. The Torrance City Council two weeks ago unanimously passed a resolution opposing both bills.
Felando's amendment "would eliminate all incentives for cities to purchase surplus school sites for parks," said Torrance Councilman Tim Mock, who will probably go to Sacramento to testify against it. "Cities cannot compete with developers."
The third amendment would strengthen the current law by making it more difficult for school districts to get waivers from the law. It is expected to be voted on by the full Assembly before the end of the month.
At issue is a 1981 amendment to the state education code called the Naylor Act. It allows a city to purchase or lease up to 30% of surplus school sites for recreational purposes for as little as 25% of market value. The exact price is determined by negotiation.
The idea behind the act, said Assemblyman Robert W. Naylor (R-Menlo Park), was to give cities "reasonable opportunity to preserve recreational land without having to pay premium prices for property that had already been purchased by the public. If the cities and schools were governed by the same agency there would be no problem.
"I think if my bill is repealed it will cause the loss of a lot of recreational properties," he said.
Land Not Set Aside
For South Bay cities, the future of the Naylor Act is particularly important because open land generally is scarce and property values are high. Cities here, particularly the beach cities, developed quickly and without much planning. Most did not set aside much space for parks and recreation.
"I would be the first to be sympathetic" to schools districts, Torrance's Mock said. "But then how do we get open space? That's the dilemma I'm in, but I don't see any other way to do it."
But while cities are trying to get park land inexpensively, school districts are worried about shortages of funds. School enrollments statewide are beginning to increase, but most school districts in the South Bay are still experiencing declining enrollments and are closing schools.
"I'm interested in cooperating, I just don't want to be taken," said Marilyn Corey, superintendent of the Hermosa Beach City School District.
School district officials argue that the Naylor Act gives cities an unfair advantage because city councils also control the zoning on the properties. By refusing to allow residential or commercial development, a city council can make the land unsellable to anyone but the city.
In Hermosa Beach last year, the city council zoned part of a closed school site as open space, the other part residential. The school district received $76,1000 for each of the residentially zoned lots, but only $18,750 from the city for equal-sized lots that were zoned for open space. The district is trying to sell five other lots, but the city council has refused to change the zoning to allow homes to be built.
"It is unfair for one government agency to have power over the property of another public agency," Corey said.
"The district is entitled and should derive economic benefits of surplus land, but it should be balanced with the overall needs of the community," countered Hermosa Beach Mayor George Barks. "The land should not be developed to its maximum density."
First to Use Act
Although many schools in the South Bay have closed in the last 10 years, Torrance is believed to be the first South Bay city to try to use the Naylor Act to purchase a school site.
School districts generally have cooperated with cities' requests for open space. In Redondo Beach and El Segundo, school districts have given $1-a-year leases to the cities to allow public use of their recreational facilities.
But school officials in those districts say that if they want to sell those properties at a profit at the end of those leases, they should be allowed to do so.