A couple years ago, wise leaders of the Granada Community Services District voted to help skateboarders move their unregulated (and thoroughly awesome) jetty ramp from Caltrans right of way onto district property on the Burnham Strip. In so doing, the district earned a lot of goodwill and did a solid for Coastside kids. Now they have another opportunity, this time to help younger kids and their harried parents.

When they meet on Thursday, they will consider buying the property at 480 Avenue Alhambra and turning it into their long-coveted “community center.” They should not do so without first helping to find a solution for Picasso Preschool, the community center of a different sort that is too important to be left hanging by a government entity that exists to provide community services.

Elected officials in the special district claim a mandate for meeting space on the Midcoast. They point to an unscientific survey of residents that suggests people wanted a community center that would include a conference room and district offices. The survey did not, however, ask residents what they wanted more in that particular space: district offices or a respected child care center?

That address is mighty familiar to families on the Midcoast as it’s been the location of Picasso Preschool for 27 years. The three-room schoolhouse has been an indispensable family-owned daycare that has set up untold Coastside kids for success in area schools. It has also made it possible for parents to work secure in the knowledge that their children were being cared for close to home. Unexpectedly, the owners of the property announced in the middle of the pandemic that they intended to sell, and Picasso owners set out to find another suitable location. That is no easy feat, given child care regulations, Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, parking needs and all the rest, and at this writing the fate of the institution hangs in the balance.

None of that is of any concern to the GCSD, elected officials say, and it is not the Granada district’s fault that the preschool is looking for new digs. As GCSD Director Matthew Clark said earlier, “All GCSD did is put up our hand and say we are interested in the property.”

Whatever public interest there might be for a community center in El Granada is swamped by the urgent necessity of child care in the region. The lack of child care is just one of many problems that force families over the hill. Housing affordability, the lack of active recreational opportunities, commute times — it all adds up to making family life difficult here. As a result, there are fewer kids in local public schools, which then face systemic funding issues that could ultimately lead to school closures and layoffs that could perpetuate the cycle.

This happens to be the second local district buying office space in El Granada this summer. The San Mateo County Harbor District recently paid $3 million for a building just up the road — and it’s the very building in which the GCSD currently leases space. That building, by the way, has a meeting room that could be made available to the public.

If you think it’s hard to find a place to hold a government meeting on the coast, try finding care for your 4-year-old. Rather than seeing opportunity in the loss of a preschool, we’d like to see the GCSD raise its hand to see what it could do to save such an important community resource.

— Clay Lambert

This version corrects to better describe the GCSD as a special district. It collects money from ratepayers but does not tax property owners.

Clay Lambert is the editorial director for Coastside News Group. After years working at regional daily newspapers, he began as editor of the Half Moon Bay Review in 2004.

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(7) comments

D Picasso

After reading multiple articles and comments in the Half Moon Bay Review and the Nextdoor posts I am disappointed that no one has bothered to ask my husband and I why we are selling the property at 480 Avenue Alhambra, El Granada (Picasso Preschool business location).

We did not initiate this process and did not unexpectedly put the property on the market as has been stated.

We sold the business in November of 2013 to the current business owner with a 5 year lease with an option to renew another 5 years. She declined the option to renew in 2018 so we agreed to a 1 year lease at that time as the is all she wanted to commit herself to.

We were informed in August of 2020 that the business owner would be putting the business on the market. It went on the market October 2020.

When the current one year lease was up in November 2020 we offered a one year lease extension. This was declined by the business owner so we agreed on a six month lease to expire April 2021 while the business was on the market.

In December 2020 we were informed by the business owner herself that if she did not sell by March 2021 she was unsure about continuing the preschool operation.

We understood that Covid was an unexpected and unforeseen hardship for everyone and we did work with the business owner to adjust her rent so she could remain in business.

Due to current zoning changes for this particular piece of property if the decision of the business owner was to close the facility in March 2021 the property could not reopen as a preschool again.

So, in February 2021 we informed the business owner that we would be putting the property on the market in hopes of finding someone who would be interested in purchasing both the property and the business with the intention to keep this location a preschool.

We had multiple offers but only addressed those who were established preschool franchises.

Unfortunately, our first offer for both backed out due to zoning issues.

The next two credible offers that we accepted were from established immersion preschool franchise programs which would have been an asset to the community.

Unfortunately, neither one was able to reach an agreement with the business owner.

The problem was not with the price of the property as stated in a retracted post but that of the business price.

We tried our best to keep it a preschool as it was my dream 27 years ago to open, operate and provide this service to the community.

Moving forward, we hope that if GCSD purchases the property they can reach some sort of agreement with all parties involved.

here ya' go

Thank you for taking the time to explain the circumstances. Our family had a wonderful experience at the preschool. My kiddo learned the planets, discovered the wonders of books, made fun crafts, picked strawberries from Rabbit’s Garden, and started many great friendships that we still have today. We appreciate the whole Picasso family.

Barbara Dye

We are looking forward to the meeting tonight and hoping to get some issues resolved. There will be an opportunity to address the question of extending the lease for a year at 6 pm, then an opportunity to address the purchase at 7. GCSD, like all government agencies, cannot make decisions outside of a board meeting. We also can't talk together about decisions because of the Brown Act.

I'd like to add one more thing - my thanks to the Picassos who founded the preschool and ran it for many years, providing a great resource for the community.

Lauren_Wilson

Thank you Clay for this article! As a full time working Mother of 2 small kids, finding childcare on the coast is like playing the lottery. Picasso is a life saver for many working families.

I think it’s really unfair to use the 2019 survey results to argue the majority of residents want a community center. I took the survey and yes I remember selecting community center because there was nothing else that would meet my families needs. Do I really need a community center? No, I need childcare. And before anyone else comments that Picasso wasn’t on the table in 2019, I know. I hope you can see our side where we value childcare more than a community center so it’s unfair to say 66.9% want a community center without putting other options on the table. I also know that GCSD is limited in what they can do, that has been made very clear. I just hope they can agree to allow Picasso stay this upcoming school year so both the owner and families can figure out what to do.

Coastside Observer

Did you make any effort to look at the referenced survey, which is readily available on GCSD's website? Yes, a survey done in 2019 did not anticipate a choice between a child care center and a community center, for a child care center that would go on the market 2 years later. And please define "unscientific"? It was a survey sent to all 2000 residences in GCSD, with a 26% response rate, which is a very high return for a voluntary mail survey, as follow up to a 2015 community survey which also indicated high interest in a Community Center that would serve a variety of community and recreation purposes. Once the property was put up for sale, the pre-schools was at risk - GCSD did not initiate that, and since GCSD's remit is limited to sewers, trash and parks and recreation, it can't provide a permanent solution for the pre-school, which is another fact you don't reference here. The property was on the market for a few months before it came to GCSD's attention. The current owners, who founded the pre-school 27 years ago, really tried (based on their marketing material, which advertised a turn-key pre-school business) to find a buyer who would continue to operate the pre-school. It seems they had some interested parties but couldn't find one who could make it work. It doesn't appear that either you or Sarah Wright spoke to the sellers about their decision to sell, and why they agreed to sell to GCSD rather than hold out indefinitely for a buyer for the ongoing business. I agree that pre-school is important and in short supply, for all sorts of reasons, and it would have been great if the sellers could have found a buyer for the whole business.

D Olson

For what it's worth, GCSD has made it's meeting room available for many years. The MCC meets there, as well as other bodies, and groups. It's a very small space, and not suitable for more than about 30 people. Beyond that, it becomes very stuffy and crowded.

The need for a community center is huge, and long standing. It's a bit of a cheap shot to say that GCSD didn't survey to see if childcare was preferred over a community center, because the survey predated the decision to sell Picasso. And the survey *was* scientific, as much as any other survey. It had good representation throughout the community (yes, it wasn't demographically representative; more older people participated than younger, but a massive outreach effort was made).

I don't think anybody would disagree that childcare is needed. That isn't in the purview of GCSD's powers, however, so legally they can't work on that issue.

I hope funding is found to continue Picasso somewhere, or to replace it with other facilities. But once the owners decided to sell, it was a foregone conclusion that it wasn't going to be used for childcare. Sure, it would have been great if the current childcare owner could have purchased the property, but they couldn't raise the funds.

August West

The people on MCC have been taking cheap shots at the public for years. Payback.

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