San Diego High School. Photo via Wikipedia
San Diego High School. Photo via Wikipedia

The City Council Tuesday directed the city attorney’s office to draft ballot measure language that would allow San Diego High School to continue operating at the current Park Boulevard location after its lease runs out in 2024.

The question will have to go to voters because it would require a revision of a section of the City Charter — San Diego’s primary governing document — that specifies that park lands be for park uses. San Diego High School, which opened as the Russ School in 1882, sits on the southwest corner of Balboa Park but is nearing the end of its 50-year lease.

That lease states that the 34-acre campus would return to dedicated parkland when it expires.

“It might seem like a long time until 2024, but if you have a child entering first grade and we do nothing to continue the operations of the school, then that child will not be able to enter (San Diego) High School by that year,” said Councilman David Alvarez, who represents an area that sends numerous students to the school.

The direction came on a 7-1 vote, with council President Sherri Lightner opposed, saying it would create a “loophole” that would jeopardize the protection of parkland from development.

“(The) San Diego Unified School District entered into a lease with the city in 1974 which recognized that the school is illegally operating on city park property,” Lightner said. “The intent of that lease was to give the San Diego Unified School District 50 years to come up with a new location for the school.”

She, and even some council members who voted in favor, noted that the district has wasted most of that time.

Lightner reiterated that she also supported San Diego High remaining where it is, but “strongly” opposed changing the City Charter. She suggested other remedies were possible, including a ballot measure calling for a simple lease extension.

District Trustee Richard Barrera said that if the issue does reach the ballot, the district will share in the cost.

David Lundin, president of the Balboa Park Heritage Association, said he would go to court if necessary to stop a charter amendment from being placed on the ballot.

–City News Service