After years of struggling to stay afloat financially, the Cambrian School District will now be able to monetize its excess land to bring in cash for education.
Instead of selling the land outright, the Cambrian School District — long strapped for cash and hampered by budget cuts — opted to exchange 2.7 acres of its vacant land for an investment property that will generate $500,000 a year for classrooms.
The San Jose City Council voted 9-2 Tuesday to rezone the school district’s vacant lot on 1975 Cambrianna Drive to residential, allowing for the construction of 35 houses. The project, to be developed by local building company Robson Homes, will help make up for the district’s $1.1 million budget deficit for 2021, according to Superintendent Carrie Andrews.
The project received 1,100 letters of support and is the first of what may be many projects from school districts wanting to develop vacant parcels in an effort to fund education. The move comes as Mayor Sam Liccardo proposed a policy to make it easier for school districts to sell and develop their land.
Natalie Donatelli, who has two children in the district, said schools desperately need the cash.
“Cuts have been made over and over throughout the years. Class sizes, enrichment teachers and facility maintenance have been impacted,” she said. “Given the added financial burden of COVID-19 and the need to update schools’ physical infrastructure — as well as our changing technology requirements — we need to find additional sources of revenue.”
Councilmember Pam Foley led the charge helping the school district rezone its land while ensuring the city got at least some affordable housing in the mix.
“This is about the children. This is not about anything else,” Foley said. “This is about this little school district, being able to raise $500,000 from the use of its land in order to balance its budget so that it can continue to offer programs to its kids. Cambrian School District needs to focus on its core business, which is to provide the best education it can for all of its children.”
Liccardo and Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco voted against the proposal, saying the city missed an opportunity to create even more affordable housing on the land.
Seventeen of the new units will be market-rate single-family homes which will include 14 accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Four additional houses will be sold at below market-rate for people making 80% of the area median income — or roughly $78,550 annually.
“We got predominantly very expensive housing — high cost housing, for the most part — when we could have had significantly more affordable housing,” Liccardo said. “We’ve all seen projects with higher densities than this that can enable far more families to be part of the Cambrian school district, and actually have those children driving revenue to the school district.”
He added that many schools in San Jose are suffering from low enrollment.
According to Foley, the original project, proposed two years ago, offered to build 18 market-rate houses and didn’t even consider adding affordable housing to the plans. She said the city has worked to ensure everyone’s goals were met.
Liccardo has asked city officials to develop a policy to ensure affordable housing is a requirement when districts decide to put housing on their property. The idea was to have the plan in place before the Cambrian School District project passed, but the new policy needs more review.
Councilmembers and residents pushed back against delaying the project.
“I don’t think we should delay Cambrian’s plan any longer and wait for the city to put together a policy,” said Councilmember David Cohen, a former member of the Berryessa Union School District Board of Trustees. “I also don’t think we should force the city’s policy to be rushed in order to help Cambrian to get this site done.”
Liccardo said he hoped for more collaboration between the city and school districts on the subject of affordable housing.
“We’ve got a lot of school districts in trouble right now and they’re all going to be looking for ways to monetize their land,” Liccardo said. “The question is, are we going to do it in a way that also preserves our responsibility as a city, both to the kids and to the whole community over the use of that land?”
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.