As community discussion has intensified over the last several months about the size, shape, and equity of the proposed school bond tax, certain “urban myths” have taken on a new life. The purpose of this article is to shed light on the facts about how Sandpiper Elementary School came to be and de-bunk the myth that “Belmont paid for most of Sandpiper.” This myth, if left uncorrected, could distract the community at a critical time in funding the public school system. The factual basis for this article comes from extensive interviews of those who were directly involved in the development of the Shores, examination of public records, and information provided by staff at San Mateo County (Office of the Treasurer, Controller, Assessor, Education, Elections, and Records), Belmont-Redwood Shores School District (the ‘District’), and Redwood City.
Fact: Sandpiper Elementary School would not exist today had it not been for the continued generosity of the master developer, personal intervention by Redwood City Council, and significant financial support of Redwood City.
Fact: Shores and Belmont taxpayers have shared in the funding for construction of Sandpiper Elementary.
Fact: The District could have significantly reduced the financed amount for Sandpiper had it not already depleted more than $3,500,000 from the 1987 sale of the original school site in the Shores (given to the District in 1969 by the original Shores master developer for $175K) and hundreds of thousands more in School Impact Fees (a/k/a “developer fees”) collected from 1987 onwards as the Shores was built out.
The Origin of the First School in the Shores:
In 1968, the first General Plan for development of Redwood Shores was approved. In 1969, Leslie Properties, Inc. (the original master developer) sold a 6.75 acre parcel (known as the “Dory Lane parcel”) to the District at a deeply discounted price of $175K to encourage the District to build a school in Redwood Shores at a date as early as possible. Instead, in 1987, the District declared the property as “surplus” and offered it for sale to Redwood City who agreed to purchase 2 acres for the price of $362K in 1988 (now Marlin Park). The District sold the remaining portion to PenCal Properties for $3.32M which brought the District’s total profit to over $3.5M. (PenCal Properties developed the homes along what is now Harbor Colony Court and Dory Lane.)
During the period from 1987 to 1995, there was neither in-ground construction that benefited Shores students (who attended Nesbit Elementary in Belmont) nor a neighborhood school as originally planned by the master developer.
By 1995, the Shores student population had reached a critical number and the District finally acknowledged that the Shores required a local school. However, the District had no funds and attempted unsuccessfully to get Redwood City to require the master developer (now Redwood Shores Properties) to donate a second school site to the District as a condition for approval to develop Area G (seven neighborhoods). The master developer refused believing that it too would be declared “surplus” and sold.
At this point in 1995, Redwood City’s City Council became actively involved in shaping a deal that would make the first school in the Shores a reality. First, the master developer gave Redwood City “free and clear” title to 11 acres (then known as Sandpiper Park) for use as a school and related facilities.
Redwood City sold 3.89 acres of Sandpiper Park parcel to the District for a school site for $2.95M. The City used the rest of the site (7.17 acres) for a community center and sports fields and reserved the $2.95M (from the sale of the school site) in a sinking fund to support future maintenance and operations costs of the sports field and community center. The City also invested $2.98 million on construction of Sandpiper Community Center including half of the cost of the multi-purpose room that would be used by the District as part of normal school operation. In addition, the City used $1.25 million of General Improvement District 1-64 funds to construct the portions of the sports fields that would be used as part of a public park (with the District sharing the cost of joint playfields). Lastly, the City entered into a Joint Use Agreement with the District that allowed the District to use the community center, sports fields, and parking lot as part of school operations.
The District, having no ready funds, took out a loan for $6 million, using 89% of it ($5.34M) to: purchase the Sandpiper school site; construct K-3 school for 250 students, day care center, joint use sports fields, and up to $1M of the cost of a multi-purpose room in the community center; and, obtain a license to use the City’s facilities as part of school operations. The District paid the annual debt expense using developer fees and funds that it received from Belmont Redevelopment Agency. [NOTE: This is the basis for the urban myth that “Belmont paid for most of Sandpiper.” However, today’s outstanding principal is $5.6M — which is $300K more than the cost to build the first phase of Sandpiper (K-3). So, it is more accurate to say that the loan to finance the entire first phase of Sandpiper is still outstanding. This District-wide debt could have been largely avoided if the District had reserved the proceeds from the sale of the first school site as well as School Impact Fees paid over the many years by developers in the Shores for the original intended use — the construction of the first school in the Shores.]
In 1997, the voters approved a District-wide bond ($12M) and less than half used for expanding Sandpiper to K-5. Since this bond was District-wide, Shores and Belmont taxpayers have shared these bond payments.
In summary, Sandpiper Elementary School became a reality due in large measure to the continued generosity of the master developer and substantial intervention of Redwood City and its Council. Both Belmont and Shores taxpayers have shared the funding for construction of Sandpiper Elementary. The new Redwood Shores Elementary School, in contrast, is funded 100% by Shores taxpayers for the next 30 years.
–Submitted by Carole Wong, President of RSOA