The Long Beach Unified School District is the city’s largest landowner, and in a decade of steady enrollment decline, the district is sitting on a surplus of property.
Seven sites currently owned by the school district are not in operation as schools and are being evaluated for potential sales or re-purposing, according a presentation by David Miranda, the district’s executive director of facilities, development and planning.
Because all land owned by the district is considered public property, there has been a lengthy procedure to move to this point. In October of 2017, the district formed an Asset Management Advisory Committee, and over the last three years the committee has identified the seven “surplus” sites, and held public hearings on them. Miranda said at Wednesday’s board meeting that the district received no public comments at those meetings.
The lots include two vacant sites (999 Atlantic Ave. and 4310 Long Beach Blvd.) as well as five sites currently occupied by programs or offices, including the district headquarters (1515 Hughes Way, 723 Long Beach Blvd., 2201 E. Market St., 2425 Webster Ave. and 2700 Pine Ave.).
The board unanimously approved a resolution authorizing district staff to assess other options for those properties, including sale or re-purposing.
Boardmember Megan Kerr said she’s hoping the district can convert some of the unused properties into affordable housing, something the city is lacking—which former Superintendent Chris Steinhauser cited as one of the reasons the district is declining in enrollment.
“There’s nowhere to build, we know that, we are a landlocked city,” said Kerr in an interview Thursday. “So the opportunities are either something gets demolished or an empty lot gets developed.”
Because it’s public land, there are a variety of complications about how the land would be converted, whether affordable housing could be built by the city or by an affordable housing company that the district could lease the land to cheaply.
“How we do it is complicated,” said Kerr. “But it’s public land and we have an obligation to serve students and families. Instead of selling to a random developer, do we have an opportunity to be thoughtful about what we do?”
The district does not currently own or operate any housing, but the city and district have also never faced a time like this. Steinhauser said many times in the final months of his tenure that a lack of affordability in the city was going to change the makeup of the district and likely continue to result in declining enrollment as young families are forced to look elsewhere for housing.
“This land was bought and meant to be of service to the community, so for me giving it off to the highest bidder in the name of a one-time chunk of change isn’t as desirable as being really thoughtful and potentially having a generational impact on the city,” said Kerr. “Bringing kids and families in a time of declining enrollment, it’s a no-brainer for me.”
One other boardmember spoke up in support of the idea at Wednesday’s board meeting. Felton Williams, who represents the Poly High neighborhood, said he’d like to see the district explore the options as well.
“We’ve been discussing the dilemma of housing and the fact that we don’t have the kind of affordable housing that could bring families into the city,” he said. “The idea that we could use some of those properties as affordable housing is extremely attractive.”