Who will win the bid for the former Jacobs campus?
And what will be built there – a new police headquarters or
affordable market-rate housing?
Two entities – the City of Eureka and the California Highway Patrol – have expressed interest in purchasing and developing the former George C. Jacobs Junior High School campus, near Highland Park in Eureka. Eureka City Schools Superintendent Fred Van Vleck tells the Outpost that the school district is “still in active negotiations with both parties.”
“We have received a formal offer from the City of Eureka and have been informed by DGS – the Department of General Services who negotiates for the CHP – that they are in the process of giving us a formal offer as well,” Van Vleck told the Outpost in a recent phone interview. “We’ll see what our steps forward are depending on if CHP or the City of Eureka are able to meet the board’s terms for the piece of property.”
It’s been over a decade since the doors closed at the Jacobs Junior High campus. As the abandoned school fell into disrepair over the years, a group of concerned neighbors formed the South Eureka Neighborhood Alliance to pressure the school district into removing the dilapidated building blighting their community. The Eureka City Schools Board of Education voted to sell the property in May 2019 and the school was demolished in January 2021.
It remains to be seen what exactly will become of the site. While nothing is set in stone, Van Vleck said CHP is interested in building a new Humboldt Area headquarters on the property. If the City of Eureka were to win the bid, it would likely rezone the property to make way for
affordable market-rate and workforce housing.
Van Vleck could not say how much the school district is asking for the property nor how much the city and CHP had offered, noting a stipulation in the Brown Act that keeps real estate negotiations discussed during closed session confidential.
In response to the Outpost’s request for additional information, the City of Eureka shared two emails sent by City Manager Miles Slattery to Van Vleck and two school board members – Lisa Ollivier and Mario Fernandez – regarding the sale of the former Jacob’s campus.
In the first email, dated Aug. 2, Slattery writes that the property has been appraised at $200,000 per acre “and the offer the city is willing to submit is $1,650,000 for the 8.25 acres.” He notes that the “appraisal is based on re-zoning a portion of the property to R2 [or multi-family residential], which is the highest and best use,” and does not include the soccer fields.
Slattery posed a second offer to purchase the entire 14.09-acre property for $2,818,000.
“With this option, the city would be willing to ensure that the soccer fields would be in place in perpetuity, maintain the fields and allow for use for after-school sports programs, and potentially other programs, to [Eureka City Schools],” he wrote. “Preliminarily, we are looking at relocating our corp yard and utiliz[ing] a larger portion of the non-soccer field property for residential development. A priority for the City Council is workforce housing, and the City would be willing to work with [the district] to have access to that housing for teachers and administration.”
In a follow-up email, Slattery refers to an exchange with Van Vleck in which he “received the asking price of $4 million for the property, with or without the ownership of the soccer fields.” Slattery emphasized that the aforementioned offer “is the city’s best and final offer” and urged the district to “take into consideration what is best for our community and the interests of families in the adjacent neighborhood.”
“As public servants responsible for the appropriate use of public funds, the city cannot justify anything higher than our current offer,” the Aug. 29 email states. “The city has appraised the property under a zoning designation that provides the highest market rate value of the property, and there is no zoning designation that could justify such an exorbitant value. …The city is not interested in getting into a bidding war with a state agency with much more resources and less interest in what is best for our community and the neighborhood.”
Reached by phone this week, Humboldt Area CHP Captain and Commander Shawn Morris said he could not say what CHP was prepared to pay for the property and directed the Outpost to DGS – the department in charge of real estate management and acquisition for CHP – for additional information on the agency’s offer. DGS has not responded to our request for comment as of this writing.
Slattery’s email raised a few questions. Namely, if CHP – or another entity – were to make a better offer, would the school district be obligated to accept the offer, regardless of the content of the proposal? Van Vleck couldn’t say.
“As far as the school district is concerned, our biggest interest is to generate the best revenues that we can to [best] impact student learning,” he said.
A quick Google search yielded this result from the state Legislative Analyst’s Office:
If a school district has surplus property, the local governing board can vote to sell or lease the property through a competitive bidding process. Before using this process, however, the district must offer to sell or lease the property to certain types of entities, including agencies interested in sponsoring low-income housing, local parks and recreation districts, and city and county governments. In most cases, the school district may sell or lease the property to these entities at current market value.
When asked specifically whether the school district was obligated to go with the highest bidder, Van Vleck said, “This is a question that our attorney will address with the Board once we have the bids in from CHP and the City of Eureka. As such, at this point, I cannot give you a legal answer.”
There’s no telling when the district will make a decision on the matter. The Board of Trustees will likely return to the item during its next meeting on Thursday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m.