Encinitas looking to buy more open space

Encinitas wants to buy more land to set aside as open space, and finding such properties should be a top priority in the coming year for the city’s Parks & Recreation Commission, the City Council decided last week.

Over the next several months, the commission will create a list of properties, assess what they might cost and then evaluate the city’s funding options, the council said March 22.

How the city would pay for the land is still unclear. There’s been talk of setting aside $200,000 for open-space purchases in the city’s next budget cycle — but that’s a tiny amount compared to what real estate costs in a coastal town.

The city’s money would need to be matched with other sources of funding, the council said.

Encinitas already owns just under 116 acres of open space, split among eight properties. By far the largest of those properties is the 56-acre Indian Head Canyon area on Quail Hollow Drive off Saxony Road.

However, city-owned parcels account for only a tiny bit of the preserved open space land in Encinitas, city Park & Recreation Director Jennifer Campbell said. Other government entities, including the state of California, hold title to some 1,200 acres of open space in town, including the San Elijo Lagoon and the Manchester Preserve.

On March 22, the council didn’t suggest any specific properties that should go on the commission’s buy-now list, but they and some audience members had advice on how to rank any potential prospects. Connectivity — how close a new parcel might be to existing open space areas — was mentioned several times as a high-value item.

Councilman Tony Kranz said people also typically forget to to calculate how much habitat maintenance work a property might regularly need. He said that ought to be a factor in the commission’s recommendations.

Parks Commissioner Doug Goad suggested potential sites should be places that the public can easily get to and use.

“It’s not always ideal to have open space and not have access to it,” he said.

The council had been asked March 22 to consider forming a new city committee to shepherd the open space project, but instead decided the parks commission was up to the task. Setting up a new group would have required extra work by city staff.

“To me, this just seems like a more effective way to proceed,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said.

Councilman Joe Mosca, who previously served on the parks commission, said he thought the panel was definitely up to the task, calling them a “brilliant” bunch of people.

Councilman Mark Muir, who originally put forward the idea of having Encinitas focus on open space acquisition in the coming year, asked whether the parks commissioners wanted the job.

Several parks commissioners in the audience vigorously nodded their heads in response.

--- Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune in Encinitas.

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