Last month, the San Marcos City Council and the Governing Board of the San Marcos Unified School District (SMUSD) held a joint meeting to discuss topics important to our city and to our schools. The three-hour meeting included a broad discussion about the city’s General Plan and the expected growth within the SMUSD. Staff from both organizations shared detailed information about their current and future growth plans.
It is very clear that the success of SMUSD and growth within San Marcos is placing significant pressure on the school facilities and infrastructure. It is something that every family with school-aged kids in San Marcos has felt. The Council and the Governing Board agreed at the meeting that addressing current and future infrastructure needs requires actively working together to plan for the future.
The city’s General Plan was adopted in February 2012. It serves as the primary planning tool for development within the city. The General Plan, along with the city’s Housing Element that was approved in 2013, serve as a blueprint for current and future development within San Marcos. General plans typically cover a 20-year period and are updated about every 10 years. At the time the current San Marcos General Plan was passed in 2012, it had not been updated comprehensively for more than 30 years.
At its adoption in 2012, the General Plan projected that the city would reach maximum build out over a 20-year period. This would mean an addition of approximately 14,000 housing units to bring the city’s total housing count to about 41,000 units.
From 2011 through 2016, the actual amount of development within the city has been about 1,500 units, which is 64 percent slower than the pace of growth anticipated by the General Plan. Of the projects that have been approved since the General Plan was adopted, the number of units is within a half a percent of what was planned. This means that overall the city is developing more slowly than the General Plan projected and on a project-by-project basis is essentially on target with the number of units.
The information shared by the school district staff at the joint meeting highlighted its success and some of the challenges it faces.
According to longtime Governing School Board member and San Elijo-area resident, Randy Walton: “For a decade now, San Marcos Unified School District has been on a roll, and is now recognized as one of the highest performing school districts in the region, and the state. Success like that attracts students and families, and today San Marcos Unified is one of two districts in the county that continues to grow. Looking to the future, however, that growth is dramatic and concerning.”
During the joint meeting, district staffed shared that half of their 18 main school facilities are near or over capacity. This includes the schools that serve San Elijo Hills. The school district estimates that over the next 20 years, it will need to add between seven to twelve new facilities to meet the anticipated population growth. It is constrained in meeting this need by a lack of available land and the availability of state funding for new schools.
I referred to this situation in the joint meeting as a “crisis of quality.” We live in a city with a very high quality of life, which includes a school district that is providing a very high-quality education. We need to work proactively to make sure there is sufficient infrastructure to continue to support both.
“We know that we will need several new schools to accommodate the city’s projections for future growth, and having a public meeting with the city on the subject of growth is a positive start,” said Walton. “We love educating children, but we need to make sure we have the space to provide that education and that is something we can’t do without the city’s help.”
Likewise, the city needs the school district’s help so that it can not only work to address the current infrastructure needs, but also continue to make good planning and development decisions in the future.
The joint meeting was a positive first step, but it’s clear that this challenge needs the continued active participation of policymakers at both the city and the school district. It was suggested at the joint meeting that the city and the school district meet regularly to explore solutions. I support that idea and have asked the city to move quickly to make it happen. I believe it is critical that the city and the school district work collaboratively to continue to preserve the quality of life and education in San Marcos.