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Property Appraisals Not Necessary for Land Swap Deal, Superintendent Says

Property valuation appraisals are not required for all of the parcels in a complex land swap deal coming back before Alameda City Council and the Alameda Unified School District, school superintendent Kirsten Vital insists.

Property valuation appraisals are not required for all of the parcels in a complex land swap deal coming back before Alameda City Council and the Alameda Unified School District, school superintendent Kirsten Vital insists.

Last night, Alameda Unified School District Superintendent Kirsten Vital was adamant that property appraisals are not necessary, and none will be forthcoming, for parcels of land scheduled to be swapped between the Alameda Unified School District and the City of Alameda.

The complex proposal would see AUSD effectively turn over to the city’s housing authority some $4.6 million in redevelopment funds, originally intended to support low-income housing for district employees, the former Island High School property, and to the City of Alameda, a 12-acre parcel of land in the south of Alameda Point, and a Tidelands Trust parcel of land on the north shore of Alameda.

In return, the City of Alameda would provide to AUSD a 20-acre parcel of land at Alameda Point, and $1.95 million in cash for pool repairs.

AUSD Board Member Trish Spencer was a sole dissenter in insisting that property appraisals were necessary for all parcels involved in the swap, to ensure that the school district was getting a fair trade in the deal.

AUSD Superintendent Kirsten Vital insisted there was no way to place a value on, for example, the 20-acre parcel that the district may one day use to build a school site to support new residents there.

And she flatly stated that there are no property appraisals for any parcel other than the former Island High School site, and none will be prepared.

Action Alameda News had previously verified, regarding an earlier version of this deal, last fall, that none of the property, except the former Island High School site, had property appraisals.

Contested Property
In his presentation to the board, AUSD CFO Robert Clerk termed the so-called Tidelands Trust parcel a “contested” parcel, and in a press release yesterday, announcing the deal, the City of Alameda described the swap as settling a “long-standing issue,” without explaining the issue.

Neither city nor school district officials have been willing to answer Action Alameda News’ questions about the nature of the long-standing issue or controversy over the tidelands parcel between the City of Alameda and the school district.

Assistant City Manager Alex Nguyen would not confirm, citing closed-session privilege, that special city council meetings over the past several months, the public notices for which explained that the City of Alameda was contemplating initiating a lawsuit against an un-named entity, were indicative of the city’s attempt to sue the school district to resolve “contested” claims over the tidelands parcel.

The school district apparently gained a stake in the tidelands parcel in year 2000, under a previous swap deal involving the former Mastick school, now Mastick Senior Center.

Last night, AUSD Superintendent Vital declared the tidelands parcel worthless to the school district, to justify trading it to the City of Alameda.

Board member Spencer, and Alameda resident Melanie Wartenburg, who lives across the street from the old Island High School site, both also asked why the school district would consider trading away that property before the district’s facilities master plan, which includes the parcel, is complete.

That line of reasoning went nowhere with Vital, nor with the other board members, who insisted that the deal made sense in the proposed time frame, with or without property appraisals.

Ms. Wartenberg, who also expressed concern at the meeting that the swap discussions have now, it is clear, been in the works behind closed doors for some time, and asked the school board to slow down, told Action Alameda News today, “I find it sad and personally take offense that our opposition to high-density housing on the old Island High School site was characterized by an AUSD board member as NIMBY-ism against low-income housing. If a builder wanted to build a five-story luxury apartment building in our historic neighborhood, my neighbors and I would have the same opposition. Also, I found another board member’s comments about the community not being able to understand complex government matters to be paternalistic, dismissive, and denigrating to the intelligence of the general public.”

Wartenberg and area residents had previously opposed high-density housing for the old Island High School site, and they have worked in the past to turn the site into a community garden.

Alameda resident Laura Didonato asked why the school district couldn’t keep the old Island High School site to support future demand for classrooms emerging from increased residential development in the North Park Street area.

Closed Sessions Permitted, but Not Required
At last night’s meeting, AUSD board member Mike McMahon insisted that it was necessary to develop some deals out of the public eye. (Spencer shot back that the last such deal, in 2000, around the Mastick center, gave the school district claim to the tidelands trust property which the district now claims is worthless.)

Public agencies are permitted, under state law, but not required, to conduct real property negotiations in closed sessions. In the past, Alameda City Council has voted to disclose closed-session meeting details.

In response to refusals by the school district and the City of Alameda to answer questions about the negotiations or explain the nature of the conflicting claims about the tidelands parcel, Action Alameda News issued a call, this morning, to both Alameda City Council and the AUSD Board of Trustees to jointly resolve to disclose to the media and the public details from closed session meetings on the swap, which, it is now clear, have been in the works behind closed doors for months.

In response, Mr. Nguyen wrote to say “You make the assumption that this matter is being discussed and decided exclusively in closed sessions. That is not the case. The proposed agreement will be discussed and then voted on in open session by each of the three agencies.”

Those three meetings are scheduled for:

  • AUSD: March 11
  • Housing Authority: March 13
  • City: March 18

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