San Diego

San Diego High's Future Goes to City Ballot Test

The future of the oldest high school in the county will be in the hands of city voters come November.

Will they let San Diego High remain on property in Balboa Park, where it's been since 1882?

San Diego High is operating on borrowed time, because its 50-year lease is due to expire in 2024.

Its overseer, the San Unified School District, has no viable Plan B for relocating -- and needs a City Charter change to occupy municipal parkland in perpetuity.

Critics don’t think that failure should be rewarded.

“They have a written obligation to move out, approved by the Superior Court,” says Hal Valderhaug, a retired chief deputy city attorney who handled the half-century lease issues in 1974. “ And the Superior Court is going to enforce that, if it comes down to it."

San Diego High's patchwork history has been a focal point of the dispute.

The school site was deeded to the city by early civic founder and land baron Alonzo Horton, years before Charter parkland restrictions were ratified.

Balboa Park preservationists say its buildings and 34- acre campus should now be re-purposed for city uses.

They point out that the district has been paying only $200 annual rent for property worth $100 million, if voters were to approve commercial development.

But district officials say the school's eviction would be harmful to its educational mission, students and their families -- and, that the city actually benefits from a longstanding partnership with the district.

"Look at San Diego Unified dedicating over 200 acres of park space -- we have joint-use agreements across the city, putting parks in all over,” schools Supt. Cindy Marten told NBC 7 in an interview Tuesday. “We believe in one San Diego, a beautiful city, parks everywhere, gorgeous schools inside gorgeous neighborhoods."

Said Councilman David Alvarez, a SDHS graduate: “Today, our reality is that almost 3,000 students and their families will not have a place to go to school if (opponents) get their way and the school gets demolished. It's important for us to play a critical role in insuring kids in multiple neighborhoods in San Diego to have a place to go to high school."

After nearly an hour of proceedings Tuesday afternoon, the City Council moved the Charter change to the November 8th ballot.

If voters approve it -- and there's disagreement over whether a two-thirds majority is required -- opponents warn there'll be legal challenges.

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