Encinitas City Councilmember and former Mayor Teresa Barth has had the historic Pacific View property in her sights for years, and despite several frustrations and setbacks, built the foundation that supported its dramatic acquisition by the city in mid-2014.
She’s a native with the sensibilities you’d hope for in a true local— principled, community-oriented, environmentally proactive and open-minded, with an easy laugh that can yield to frankly spoken concern when confronted with injustice. Barth is also well-traveled, and her outlook is informed by experiences in other countries and communities.
The daughter of one of the City of Del Mar’s founders, Bill Arballo, she spent her childhood frequenting the fairgrounds where Arballo worked. During her teen years, her dad worked in Hilo, Hawaii, as a United Press International correspondent. There, Teresa experienced the Big Island’s laid-back lifestyle and, as a haole, or white mainlander, its prejudices. She muses that her sense of empathy blossomed after experiencing discrimination firsthand.
An environmentalist before such studies were common, she studied forestry at college in Colorado for a year, but the severe winter weather drove her back to Southern California. For 25 years, she worked at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in the Exhibits and Education Department. When she retired in 2003, she began writing a column about Encinitas people and places for the North County Times. Her political career began soon afterward with a painful few years as part of the political minority on a brutish Encinitas City Council.
SavePacificView.org spoke with Barth about her indispensable role in the Pacific View purchase, her preternatural confidence that it would come to pass, and her plans when she leaves office this November, as she originally pledged to do after two terms.
SavePacificView: Your dad was one of the framers of Del Mar’s cityhood, and its third mayor. Did growing up in that environment give you an early political edge?
Councilmember Teresa Barth: It did. I mean, I was a young kid, and you don’t understand all the political ramifications and stuff, but understanding that not everybody agreed with you and [laughs] that you couldn’t make everyone happy. I didn’t decide to follow in his footsteps— I fell into it after I retired from the Fair. My husband and I moved to Cardiff from Solana Beach in 1994. I was involved with the Cardiff Friends of the Library and the building fund for the library, and I was at City Hall from time to time, browbeating them about things like inappropriate development in Cardiff.
In 2006, [Councilmember] Christy Guerin said she wasn’t going to run for re-election. And people were saying “who’s going to run?,” and pretty soon it was “why don’t you run?” Hence, I ran, because nobody else would. To go for an empty seat is like a gift. I know I would not have run to defeat somebody. This isn’t a stepping stone, I’m not moving on to assembly or the president or anything like that. Good god, can you imagine what that’s like? No wonder every time you see ‘em, within six months they’re all grey.
That’s how I ended up running. I knew enough, I’d been involved enough, and I wasn’t completely green.
SPV: What was the atmosphere like when you first joined the city council?
Barth: The council was sort of reflective of national politics, you know, the “I’m right, you’re wrong” thought process. I never felt that way about anything. The more points of view you have, the broader your decision-making basis is. I was very frustrated about the way I was treated. I just thought that [showed] no class on their part [laughs]—I don’t know what else to say. But I felt it was hurting the city and I wanted to make sure that we as a community could go forward. Lots of this angst that we’re still suffering from was because of that aggressive, in-your-face behavior.
And I took heat from people who still tell me that I should have gotten back at those people [when I became part of the majority]: “you should be puttin’ those people in their place.” [My critics] were not “turn the other cheek-ers,” and in fact I was told that that represented a weakness. And I said “I’m not going that way. I’m just not doing it.” Because it’s about what’s best for the city, not what’s best for me. Partially because I have no political ambitions. Probably if I did, if that was my mantra, I might have behaved differently. But it’s not in my personality. Though there were times I wanted to!
SPV: Was the divisiveness during that period a factor in the city failing to buy Pacific View?
Barth: Oh, yeah. Every act, every decision, was colored by the [city's acquisition of] the park, the Hall property. When Mr. [City Manager Gus] Vina came on board and proposed that we borrow some money and just build out phase one, I thought “okay, this will finally end it” because [they had previously said] “we have $9.5 million, so we really can’t afford to build the skate park and the dog park. If those people want that, then they’re going to have to raise that money themselves. But we’re going to build those [playing] fields with no assistance or contribution from the field sports people; that’s okay.”
SPV: What was their rationale?
Barth: Because that’s who supported them in their elections.
SPV: Was it that obvious?
Barth: [Laughs] It should have been! Based on the campaign literature that came out— I hated children, according to some of the campaign literature, because I had the audacity to want the skate park built by the city at the same time as the fields.
SPV: How did that situation resolve?
Barth: I credit Gus Vina one hundred percent with saying “this is what you can do, this is how you can do it, and you’ll be done with it.” [Councilmember] Jim [Bond] and [Councilmember] Jerome [Stocks] wanted that park built and also saw that this was just going to continually be a fight, fight, fight. I think they wanted to be on the council that broke ground on the park, so they agreed to that proposal. It’s going to be a great community facility.
SPV: What was going on with the potential purchase of Pacific View during that period?
Barth: When Pacific View first came up, [Councilmember] Danny [Dalager] had to recuse himself because he owned some property across the street. So it was [Councilmember] Maggie [Houlihan] and I and Jim and Jerome. Maggie and I said “let’s sit down with the school district and get an appraisal of the property,” and Jim and Jerome said no. And Jerome had said, off dais, “I’m not spending one dime on anything but that park [the Hall property]. I’m gonna have that park.” [If we had purchased Pacific View then], it would have been less expensive and it would have been in a much better condition than it is now. Much better.
Then the school district said, “okay, if you don’t want it, then we’re going to re-zone it and put it up for sale.” The re-zoning process is easily a year, and it took them even longer because they had community workshops and community arguments and they were taking a lot of heat. And then when it finally came to us, Maggie and I, and I think Jim, voted against their request to rezone. I was real comfortable with my findings— you can’t just say “no, I don’t want to” do something, you have to state reasons that are defensible in court. It had always been identified in the general plan and downtown-specific plan as Public/Semi-Public use. Changing it to R-15 Mixed Use zoning was not in keeping with our general plan and specific plan. In the Ed Code, it says they have the right to rezone to the surrounding areas as long as it’s not in conflict with an existing general or specific plan.
SPV: Do you have access to the city attorney when you’re making determinations like that?
Barth: You have access to the city attorney, but the city attorney was sort of saying that they had the right. Then the school district sued us for denying them their rights to re-zone. Then they agreed to drop [the suit] because they had a sale, the Art Pulse thing, so it was all very convoluted [laughs]. When that fell through, it came back to us. The other thing that occurred, too, was Prop. A, and the requirement of a public vote to re-zone from Public/Semi-Public.
SPV: Your city council colleagues Tony Kranz and Lisa Shaffer say you became a catalyst for improved relations on the city council, laying the groundwork to secure the Pacific View parcel for public use instead of letting developers have their way.
Barth: I did, because it wasn’t getting us anywhere being aggressive, at loggerheads. But truly, if the community hadn’t elected Tony and Lisa, we would still be in that place. It was critical to have that change. That was the change that made [the Pacific View purchase] happen.
SPV: Did you even have doubts when you were just hours away from the auction?
Barth: [Laughs] Somewhat! It was a little tense, but I just knew in my bones that we could not let it go.
SPV: But you didn’t know the morning of that meeting that you had the votes.
Barth: No, I didn’t.
SPV: Did you have alternate plans if the votes weren’t there?
Barth: No, not specifically alternate plans. But I also felt very strongly that, yes, they were going to get bids, but they were going to be up against a community outraged. That it was going to be hard for them to get it re-zoned. That it was going to be a poison pill for any developer.
SPV: What was that last-minute closed city council session like, when you weren’t sure what the outcome would be?
Barth: It was not an easy conversation on all sorts of levels. That [$10 million] was a huge offer. I get that. In my mind, it was all about showing that we were serious, that we weren’t running them around again. To a certain degree, I understand the frustration from the school district’s perspective. I think they felt like they’d gotten the runaround over a course of many, many years. And “Can’t We All Get Along” Teresa, that’s gonna be my middle name, I felt we had to rebuild that trust thing, and we sort of blew it with the [rejected $4.3 million] low offer. [At the time], I went in thinking we had sort of repaired that [lack of trust] on the subcommittee level, and they knew the [two] appraisals that we had, and I was hoping we were going to go into standard negotiations. [Our offer] wasn’t the lowest [appraisal]; it was between the two. [Laughs] It was a scientifically chosen figure, based on normal negotiations.
But then I realized that we hadn’t repaired that trust problem, so going the half a million more over their minimum was an olive branch. [Laughs] I saw it as saying “no, we really are serious this time.” Leap and the net will appear. That’s a zen philosophy.
SPV: So in that closed meeting, you leapt?
Barth: I leapt.
SPV: What did it feel like emotionally to be in that situation, with the clock ticking?
Barth: Actually, I think I was really calm. This sounds like, you know, “woo woo,” [pounding her finger on the table several times for emphasis] I always knew that we would get that property. I just knew it. I don’t know how or why. It couldn’t go away; we couldn’t let it slip through our fingers. Over the years when things would bounce around and people in the community would go “oh, we lost it!,” I’d say “no, we haven’t; don’t give up.”
SPV: You don’t think that the threat of bidders ready to put their money down was a bluff?
Barth: I don’t believe that at all. When you think about this, during the Art Pulse deal you had John DeWalt offering, what was it, $4 million for seven lots, which was about a third of the property. So if he was willing to do that for a third, using simple math, for the whole property, that’s $12 million. Pacific Station, which was just over an acre, went for $10 million with a railroad track right behind it. And how many parcels of undeveloped coastal land are there in California? People say “it has no value when you don’t know what the zoning is.” I say it’s priceless! There’s a big difference there between worthless and priceless. It’s priceless!
SPV: Do you think the school district was purposely stalling over that ten year interval, waiting for the Naylor Act [which requires districts to sell portions of ex-school property cheaply to cities] to expire?
Barth: No, I don’t. [Laughs] Part of the thing is that the Naylor Act is so confusing. There’s also the government code sections that describe their right to do things. I think we all were just trying to figure out what’s next and how to navigate through this. I always say if you get two attorneys in a room, you’ll have four opinions.
At the same time, Del Mar was negotiating with their school district [for a disused school], but the family that deeded that to the school district did restrict it, so they couldn’t just sell it, unlike [our situation].
SPV: What was the reason for weakening the school district’s initial requirement that the property never be rezoned, sold or leased? [The current agreement prohibits the city from selling the property within 10 years without offering it back to the school district for the original $10 million. It also states "after this ten (10) year period, the Buyer may dispose of the Property in any manner it chooses."]
Barth: In my mind that was all about reassuring the school board that no, we’re not going to flip the property. It was also kind of to tie future councils’ hands: “if you think you’re going to flip it, here’s this whole process.”
SPV: If you wanted to restrict future councils’ ability to sell the property, why not just leave the school district’s requirement as-is?
Barth: No, because I want future councils to [have some freedom] if they want to put artist loft housing on it; if the community [wants] a youth hostel. There are all sorts of ideas that have come up that are on the table, so I didn’t want the school district tying our hands in that regard. But I wanted to give a 10-year breathing room [period].
SPV: But hypothetically, a council 10 years from now, if they got a public vote, they could turn Pacific View into exactly what we were trying to avoid.
Barth: They could, but somehow I don’t think they’d [win] a public vote. And within 10 years, something viable will be happening there and nobody’s going to want to lose it. I don’t see us ever selling it. [The agreement only restricts] the sale of the property, not the re-zoning. It gives us the ability to go for re-zoning under Prop. A.
People will say “oh, you got had by the school district, blah blah blah.” [Laughs] Is there a monster under every bed? Can we just go forward, look at things on face value and have a little trust?
SPV: Do you feel a deep affinity for the Pacific View property?
Barth: My last act as mayor was signing the purchase agreement for Pacific View— I loved that.
I didn’t go [to school] there, though that [represents] the high point of California education. In the ’50s— California was golden. And that construction, that mid-century modern with a wall of windows where you had natural light and just opened the window and you got the sea breeze— that was the zenith of California, and kind of the zenith of my childhood in that sense, too. Those were the golden years. After that it was indoors, no windows, air conditioning, heating; and now we’re recognizing how important it is to have things like fresh air and natural light.
But the other thing, too, about Pacific View, is a need to build community back up again. We’ve gotten really splintered and busy. Pacific View is a catalyst. It just got so many people engaged. My husband and I were in Australia a few years ago. Outside of Melbourne there’s this little beach section of the city called St. Kilda, and their motto is “Keep St. Kilda Groovy”— and it has very much a Leucadia vibe to it. Their town council had owned a traditional English bowling green which went by the wayside, but they had converted it into artist studios and a community garden. And a few years ago, I was at a national main street conference in New Orleans after Katrina and we toured Bell Middle School. It got hit hard during Katrina, and they were going to rehab the whole thing and turn it into an artists’ village with apartments, studios, the whole nine yards. And I kept thinking “now look, if they can rehab Bell, we can fix Pacific View.”
So this is all running in the back of my head through this whole process. We as a community? Piece of cake. We can do this. We have the people in this town who’ll step up to the plate.
SPV: What is your vision for the site?
Barth: I would like us to try to salvage the original school; the two main wings. There’s that front office that I think must have been an add-on at some point; we might take that off and convert those classrooms into studio space. Get rid of that blacktop and put in a garden and lawn and gathering spots. And probably get rid of those portables [classrooms] in the back. Maybe move the farmer’s market down there if that’s something that’s amenable to the neighbors, and have more events— festival-type things. I see ocean education projects with the kids; I’d love to get the Surfing Madonna Save the Ocean group involved, maybe take over one of the studio spaces. A nice little café or coffee cart.
But it’s not just my vision. It’s all about what the community’s vision is for Pacific View.
SPV: Would this be in the interim or the ultimate use?
Barth: The interim, within the next five or so years. While we talk about the vision. And the vision may be keep the two buildings and build other things on the perimeter, maybe move the Old Schoolhouse to a better location than where it is right now. The alley has to be addressed because that’s access to those houses. I can see getting some life on that property.
SPV: How will the interim and long-term projects be funded?
Barth: You know, we’ve had so many people ask us “how can we help?” that once we have a mechanism to say “here, this is how you can help,” I see no problem whatsoever raising the funds or in-kind donations to make this work. Lisa and I are in the subcommittee to understand the whole scope of fundraising in the municipal world. People want to help, they want to contribute. They love this community and they have the skills and the talents— the time, treasure and talent.
SPV: What do you think of San Diego U-T columnist Logan Jenkins’ idea of housing immigrant children at the Pacific View site?
Barth: [Laughs] He’s spent a lot of time mocking me and Maggie and Tony and Pacific View—that sells papers. I know what condition those buildings are in, and to think that he’s proposing to put children in them is kind of off the mark.
SPV: Do you see yourself being involved with Pacific View after you leave office in November?
Barth: Yes. That’s probably my big role, is helping to create that community connection— creativity, community building and entrepreneur-ism. That whole “hub” thing that we’re hearing out there in the world, of people just coming together in one location to bounce ideas off of each other. I can see Pacific View being that. My biggest fear is the bureaucratic black hole, so I want to make sure that we stay on-task with Pacific View and not let that happen.
The city is not giving me a job —I’m not asking for a job— but as they work through it, I’m going to be there trying to get the community engaged, look for the positive things, organize, speak, whatever it takes. But I want to continue to be the champion of Pacific View.
SPV: That’s exciting.
Barth: [Laughs] It’s much more exciting than worrying about what the next sewer rate increase is gonna be! I feel like I can contribute more from the outside than from the inside.
SPV: Hopefully most people will react to that news the way I just did.
Barth: I hope so. I know everybody doesn’t agree with me. I know that there are people who probably don’t trust me, but by and large I think I have a fairly good reputation of being a straight shooter on things and doing my homework.
SPV: What do you see as your legacy?
Barth: Well, this sounds funny. Pacific View is definitely a big legacy for me, but I think a collaboration, a willingness to be a collaborative council, is what I think is my number-one legacy. I proved that it could be done, I proved that I could work with somebody who had worked hard to undermine me, and I could move away from that and keep going. [Also,] the plastic bag ban [laughs].
And even talking about the styrofoam. It’s amazing what we’re learning about how we’re killing ourselves. If you want to just ask “what’s important to me as a single homo sapiens?,” well, I think it’s called “your health.” I think it’s your children’s health, and if you’re not aware of what’s happening to us and the environment in this issue, then you’ve been living under a rock.
Again, climate change— we had a climate action plan that got put on the shelf because we had members of the council walking the party line that says “climate change isn’t real, it’s just a theory,” even though we’re [supposed to be] a non-partisan council. I don’t think potholes are Democratic or Republican. Potholes are potholes and they need to be fixed. Climate change is happening and we need to plan for it.
SPV: After you leave city government, do you think the civility that you helped restore will continue?
Barth: I hope so. I know Lisa and Tony are committed to it, I hope it can carry on. The biggest thing is, I hope the public says “hey, guys, you can do it.”
SPV: What misconceptions do you think people have about city government?
Barth: There’s a big misconception about how much any one councilmember can do. You always have to get buy-in from other councilmembers; you can’t go in there and just sweep it clean [by yourself]. That’s part of the checks and balances, so you don’t have a dictator come in there. There are so many things where our hands are tied by state and federal rules, whether you like ‘em or you don’t like ‘em. Some of them are great —environmental— we’re a coastal city and the Coastal Commission plays a big role in our lives. And I don’t think people understand how interconnected the city is with the regional, state and federal government. We are not autonomous.
SPV: People imbue the city council with more power and independence than it actually has?
Barth: [Yes], and that leads to frustration: “just ignore that state rule.” And it’s not always a fear of being sued, because sometimes you just go “have at us!” But I would be irresponsible with the taxpayers’ money if all I did was get us involved in litigation. If you look at the practical application of something, [some people say] you’ve sold out.
SPV: Are there public misconceptions about Pacific View?
Barth: That we paid too much for it. We could have gotten it for less six or seven years ago. But for today’s market and how important it is to the community, it’s worth every penny.
SPV: Any final thoughts?
Barth: We live in paradise. Can we stop fighting with each other about it? [Laughs] Get a grip. Enjoy where you live! The glass is more than half full!
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