District says no to Newport lease request

The Newport-Mesa Unified District and the city of Newport Beach are negotiating over an area of city land that students at Newport Elementary School use as a playground during recess and lunch.

For the past 50 years, the district has leased the park, which sits on tidelands, from the city at no cost. The city presented a new lease this year that would require Newport-Mesa to pay $32,400 annually to use the park, said Paul Reed, the district's deputy superintendent and chief business official.

Newport-Mesa Unified District trustees voted unanimously Tuesday night to reject the new lease and directed staff to continue negotiations with the city.

"We're not mad at anyone," Reed said. "We just have to work with them to resolve this issue."

The city requested that the fee for the new lease be equal to the fee the district collects from the city for its use of fields and the gymnasium at Lincoln Elementary School.

"The upkeep and maintenance on a gym is significantly different than a playground," Reed said. "To equate the two didn't seem reasonable."

Newport Elementary, which is constrained by streets on three sides and the beach sidewalk on the ocean side, has very limited playground space on the property, according to the district staff report.

The playground space is a city park when school is not in session, the report states.

"The city is charged with providing such amenities to its citizens," the report states. "The district is charged with providing educational facilities, not fields for general use, although the board may make such facilities available to the community at cost."

Assistant City Atty. Leonie Mulvihill said the lease presented to the district is similar to other agreements entered into by the city.

"Currently when the city leases property, it does charge fair market value," she said. "I think in this instance that's what's being done."

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