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Grande site has been a convoluted saga

By From page A7 | August 31, 2014

The Davis school district bought the approximately 8.4-acre property on Grande Avenue in North Davis in February 1971 for $57,768. The seller was Liggett Development.

The land was purchased with an eye toward eventual use as an elementary school site, in the expectation that Davis would be growing to the north.

What was life in Davis like in early 1971? A review of Davis Enterprise front pages indicates that city leaders were reviewing plans for Pioneer Park, adjacent to recently built Pioneer Elementary School in South Davis. City government also was reviewing plans for a proposed city park and an adjacent elementary school near the intersection of Blackburn Drive and Tulip Lane in East Davis.

The park became a reality — known today as Slide Hill Park — but the school was never built, and most of the theoretical school site became part of the park instead.

In late January 1971, the Davis school board also nixed a proposed real estate deal involving a 20-acre site for a possible new junior high school — a parcel flanked by West 14th Street, Anderson Road and Redwood Lane. (Later in the 1970s, the district purchased a site west of what was known as the “Woodland Highway” — today known as Highway 113 — which became Emerson Junior High.)

And what about home values? An advertisement by Streng Homes in February 1971 listed a new three-bedroom home (1,530 square feet) for $27,400; a new four-bedroom home (1,700 square feet) for $28,500; and a four-bedroom home, with dining room (2,170 square feet) for $33,800.

As years passed, Davis grew more to the west, leading to the construction of Patwin Elementary in the 1990s; to the south, leading to the construction of Montgomery Elementary in the 2000s; and to the east, leading to construction of Korematsu Elementary and Harper Junior High in the 2000s.

But the Grande property remained undeveloped.

Over the years, many different ideas regarding how the property might be used by the school district were suggested. There have been proposals for a city park, an environmental education center, a “small learning community” for high school students and affordable housing for young teachers. None of those ideas got very far.

At various points, the school board took some public criticism for sitting on an undeveloped — and seemingly unneeded — property that could be sold to generate funds to pay for new school buildings in other locations.

Finally, in November 2005, the board voted to deal away the undeveloped Grande property in a land swap with BP Equities, an Oakland-based firm. The deal included a $5.5 million payment to the school district, as well as a piece of property to be identified at some future date. That agreement was approved by a school board composed of trustees Joan Sallee, Marty West, B.J. Kline, Keltie Jones and Jim Provenza.

However, the deal was rescinded in March 2006 by a largely new board, made up of Provenza and Jones along with newly elected trustees Sheila Allen, Gina Daleiden and Tim Taylor.

At the time, Daleiden criticized the property exchange as “not the best deal for the school district. … I believe we have left money on the table” — a sentiment that Taylor expressed as well. Daleiden also criticized the deal as “a trade that isn’t really a trade,” since the property exchange agreement involved a payment $5.5 million without every identifying the piece of land for which the Grande property would be exchanged.

But Jones warned that the feverish run-up in property values from 2000 through 2005 had peaked, saying, “Houses (for sale) are staying on the market longer in Davis, and dropping in price. … I don’t see any guarantee that there’s going to be more money for this piece of property. … I’m extremely reluctant to think about putting aside this agreement.”

Jones’ warning was prophetic — real estate values tumbled through 2006, 2007 and 2008. Davis, which saw home prices fall by an average of about 25 to 30 percent, made out better than many parts of Sacramento, where home prices plummeted by half or more.

In the meantime, the Davis school district organized a citizens committee to determine if the Grande property was surplus land that the district could then sell. After several months of meetings, the citizens committee did determine in 2007 that the property was “surplus.”

But given the anemic state of the home building industry at that time, the district held on to the property, hoping for better times.

Davis home prices started to rise again in recent years, though they haven’t yet reached the peak experienced during the early months of 2006.

In some parts of Northern California (including Silicon Valley communities like Palo Alto, Atherton and Los Altos), home prices are higher now than they’ve ever been in the past. And mortgage interest rates remain relatively low by historic standards, though they are widely expected to start rising in the next year or so.

As a result, the home building industry in this area is gradually coming back to life — witness the site preparation underway at The Cannery, a new development that will include 500-some homes on the site of the old Hunt-Wesson tomato plant at Covell Boulevard and J Street.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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