A San Diego City Council committee agreed Wednesday with a proposal to sell the site of the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre to Southwestern College for a fraction of its market value.
In a deal that still needs approval by the council and the college's governing board, the city would sell the $300,000 property to the college for $40,000. Southwestern is proposing to build a satellite campus on the site where gunman James Huberty killed 21 people and wounded 19 others before he was killed by a police marksman in July, 1984.
The council granted Southwestern exclusive negotiating rights to the West San Ysidro Boulevard parcel in December, after separate attempts last year to sell the land for $425,000 and $300,000 failed to attract any credible bids. McDonald's Corp. gave the land to the city in October, 1984, after razing the restaurant.
Conclusion of the deal would mark the end of more than three years of often anguished debate over how to commemorate the victims of America's worst single-event mass murder. Survivors of victims of the tragedy have demanded a memorial to their relatives at the site, while local merchants represented by the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce have favored using only a portion of the property for a memorial, leaving the remainder for an acceptable commercial use.
Southwestern is proposing to include a "modest" memorial at the site developed in a design competition by its students, a concept approved by a six-person committee of community representatives appointed to review proposals for the site.
Southwestern's president, Joseph Conte, had proposed leasing the site from the city for $1 per year or buying the land. But Conte said Wednesday that Southwestern officials realized that they must own the land to attract state construction funds for the new campus. The purchase was negotiated with Deputy City Manager Jack McGrory.
"We thought, in the final analysis, that it was better to go for the purchase," Conte said. "We'll have ownership of the property, and the improvements that we make would certainly be an asset of the college. This also provides the city with an opportunity to have some cash (for the site)."
Asked how the two sides arrived at the $40,000 price, Conte said, "That's how much money we had to spend."
Under terms of the pact, the $40,000 would be used for improvements to parks in San Ysidro. Title to the land would revert back to the city if Southwestern used the land for non-educational purposes during the next 15 years.
An advisory committee of community representatives would be formed to help guide the satellite campus and review the memorial proposals. Southwestern would help San Ysidro residents, many of whom are poor, in obtaining scholarships and financial aid.
Southwestern plans to open a campus consisting of temporary structures by this fall, and would eventually replace it with a 13,300-square-foot structure and underground parking garage. The satellite would offer educational programs, guidance counseling, and support services to about 750 students.
The council's public facilities and recreation committee approved the pact Wednesday with little comment. In a news release, Councilman Bob Filner, whose District 8 includes the site, said, "The campus will not only fill a void in the education system in San Ysidro but will also serve as a living memorial to the victims of the San Ysidro tragedy."
Southwestern's governing board is scheduled to vote on the pact Feb. 9.