San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is interested in the city buying a prime piece of real estate in Mission Beach that’s currently owned by the San Diego Unified School District.

The same property has already been auctioned off twice — the district backed out of the first sale when it couldn’t lock up enough votes to move forward with the deal, and a second deal is pending.

There’s no indication, however, that the city has the money to buy such a valuable piece of property, or that the school board will back out of an agreed sale of the land for the second time in a year.

Irene McCormack, Filner’s spokeswoman, said Filner only recently learned that the city had the option to buy the property before it was put up for auction last month.

“He wasn’t here when that happened,” McCormack said. “He expressed interest in that because he’s all about neighborhoods.”

McCormack said she didn’t know whether Filner plans to ask the San Diego Unified school board to hold off on approving the pending sale of the property to a local development partnership for $18.5 million. Nor did she know what plans Filner might have for the property.

Matt Awbrey, communications director for Councilman Kevin Faulconer, said the mayor recently approached the councilman to talk about the possibility of the city buying the property. Awbrey said the city was offered the land for about $11 million prior to last month’s auction.

School board member Scott Barnett said he has also spoken with Filner about the possibility of the city buying the land. He declined to discuss the specifics of the conversation.

The pending sale of the Mission Beach Center is one of a slate of property sales the district must complete to help close a budget deficit estimated at about $90 million. The sales are expected to bring in $50 million.

The school board will vote on the sale next Tuesday night. At least four of the five board members must approve the sale. Barnett has consistently voted against the sale.

Last year, a developer bid $16.5 million for the Mission Beach Center at auction. A few weeks later during the final vote on the sale, trustee Shelia Jackson suddenly changed her mind, and voted with Barnett to kill the deal.

David Santistevan, a prominent local land broker, said backing out on the pending sale for a second time would send a troubling message to the development community.

“Either you’re a seller, or you’re not a seller,” Santistevan said. “But make up your mind!”

Correction: An earlier version of this post mischaracterized the size of the district’s Mission Beach sale. There are other district properties for sale with higher proposed sales prices. We regret the error.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. You can reach him at or 619.550.5670.

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Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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