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The San Diego Unified School District board voted 4-1 Tuesday night to sell the Mission Beach Center, a prime plot of land a block from the beach in Mission Beach, for $18.5 million — despite an in-person plea from the mayor to let the city buy the land.

This is the second time the district has tried to sell the property, and the deal was almost derailed again at the last minute by the sudden involvement of Mayor Bob Filner.

Filner showed up at Tuesday night’s meeting and made a rambling plea to the district. After apologizing for showing up at the “11th hour,” he outlined how he would like the city to work with the district as the school board moves forward on selling several other properties.

“I would have liked to work with you to say, ‘Let us buy it,’ ” Filner said. “I don’t have my check in hand.”

Before the vote, several public speakers lined up to urge the board not to sell the property. Debbie Watkins, chair of the Mission Beach Precise Planning Board, voiced concern about possible new high-density development in the community.

“The sale of this school is very important to this community because it is the biggest land use change in Mission Beach in 50 years,” Watkins said. “There is strong support from residents to find other uses for this land.”

Before the vote, Trustee Scott Barnett made a motion to ask the district to consider selling the property to the city for $11 million, in an arrangement where the district would retain a $7.5 million “equity ownership” in the land. Nobody seconded Barnett’s motion.

The school board has to raise $50 million this year by selling property to help fill a $90 million hole in its budget. Three more properties are due to be auctioned off in the next month.

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

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Will Carless

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

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