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Bayshore school district seeks to sell Robertson campus for housing development

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Daly City’s Bayshore Elementary, pictured, is in need of serious repairs, and the sellling of Robertson Intermediate to developers could help the district net much-needed funding. (Brendan Bartholomew/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Daly City’s Bayshore Elementary School District appears to have cleared a hurdle in its quest to win approval for a complicated real estate deal that would fund the construction of a new campus. But Mayor Sal Torres has doubts about one aspect of the deal and has rejected attacks on City Manager Pat Martel, who some have accused of delaying the deal on a technicality.

Geographically isolated from the rest of Daly City, the Bayshore neighborhood has its own school district, with just two schools: Bayshore Elementary and Robertson Intermediate. Both campuses are home to school buildings that are falling apart and need replacement.

The district wants to sell the Robertson campus to a developer, who would build 71 market-rate housing units on the site. Proceeds from the sale would fund redevelopment of the Bayshore Elementary campus, and the new building would serve both elementary and intermediate school students.

The district needs $25 million to construct the new building, and district officials don’t believe they can gather the funding for the Robertson property as long as it has a legally mandated 15 percent affordable housing requirement attached to it.

Therefore, the district has proposed satisfying the affordable housing requirement by allowing the San Mateo County Housing Authority to build affordable units on a half-acre, district-owned parcel in the nearby Midway Village complex.

Martel’s position has been that such an arrangement could be problematic, because the law requires the affordable housing component to be built in conjunction with the market-rate housing — in the same place, at the same time.

Despite the unprecedented nature of the proposal, the city manager said she might withdraw her objection if the county provided $1.7 million to guarantee the affordable housing is built. That sum would likely be held in a trust and returned to the county upon completion of the project.

“We’re very confident we can come to an agreement,” said Ken Cole, director for the San Mateo County Housing Department. “We’re confident we’re not putting the $1.7 million at risk, because we’re going to get this project done.”

Fearing an impasse, dozens of Bayshore parents, teachers and students attended the Feb. 22 City Council meeting to urge approval of the district proposal. Many wore orange T-shirts bearing the slogan, “Put Our Students First,” and the public comment and debate persisted until 12:30 a.m.

On Feb. 25, the county announced it would provide the $1.7 million that Martel had requested. District Superintendent Audra Pittman said she hopes this will expedite approval, because the new campus won’t be ready for the fall semester’s September start date unless the council approves the project by its April 11 meeting.

Torres disagreed with the district’s claim that Martel was unfairly delaying the project on a technicality and asserted the city’s need for a guarantee the affordable housing will be built.

“Pat is correctly and prudently asking the county to put it in writing,” Torres said. “She is doing what every city manager in the country would do.”

Torres also said he was troubled by the proposal to divide the affordable housing from the Robertson site and place it elsewhere. The move would be a significant deviation from city tradition and code that, he said, could stigmatize future residents.

“My surprise is that we are creating an environment where you can sit in this development, look across the street, and say, ‘That’s where the poor houses are,’” Torres said.

However, Vice Mayor David Canepa said the arrangement has an upside, because instead of building 14 units to meet the 15 percent affordable housing requirement, the county plans to add 18 housing units to the Midway Village site.

“That’s four additional families that get to stay in Daly City instead of potentially being displaced,” Canepa noted.