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Winston School files lawsuit against Del Mar over lease disagreement

DEL MAR — The Winston School filed a lawsuit Thursday in San Diego Superior Court against the City of Del Mar alleging the city acted in bad faith related to its recent decision to terminate the school’s lease over the summer. 

Attorneys with Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP, filed the legal action on behalf of the school.

“Having exhausted every option to reach a resolution with the City, the School had no other choice than to take legal action to protect its lease rights and home of 34 years,” according to a school release.

The City of Del Mar told The Coast News it was unaware of the legal filing as of Friday afternoon and had not yet received any documentation or notice. The Coast News also attempted to reach Mayor Terry Gaasterland but was unsuccessful prior to publication. 

Del Mar terminated the school’s lease in August stating the school had not met benchmarks related to the redevelopment of the property laid out in the lease agreement. 

In September, lawyers representing The Winston School sent a letter to the city requesting the lease to be reinstituted citing the state’s Permit Streamlining Act. The school has also repeatedly cited a provision in its lease with the city which seemingly gives the school more leeway in its redevelopment timeline during a pandemic 

In the press release, Head of School Dr. Dena Harris reiterated her belief that the school has met the requirements of the lease agreement. 

“Winston has gone above and beyond its obligations under the lease, at great cost, only to have the City engage in bad faith tactics to prevent Winston from succeeding,” Harris said. 

In September, Harris told The Coast News she was prepared to take this action if the city did not agree to rescind the termination of the lease. 

“I will go to the end,” Harris said. “And it will cost the Del Mar residents and the city a lot of money because I am not giving up.”

The lawsuit alleges “the City Council implemented a systematic strategy to obstruct the School’s efforts and declare Winston in default of the lease. They eliminated the checks and balances established in the lease by allowing the City Council, as landlord, to insert itself into the standard planning department process.”

The school said it has exhausted all efforts to avoid legal action including a request for meditation that was denied by the city. 

The Winston School is a nonprofit school serving students with learning disabilities in grades 6-12 and educates over 100 students per year from Del Mar and surrounding communities. 

The school has been located at the Shores Park property of Del Mar since 1988. After the school helped raise the funds for the city to buy the property from the Del Mar Union School District in 2007, the school signed a 55-year lease with the city in 2010. 

Next week, The Winston School is holding a public forum to discuss its ongoing plans for redevelopment with the school’s architect, Jon Dominy. 

Currently, the lease is scheduled to officially be terminated effective July 1, 2023.