Solana Beach OKs zoning changing to ensure Harbaugh land remains open space

The 30-year saga to preserve an iconic 3-acre plot at the northern end to Solana Beach came to a long-awaited — albeit procedural — conclusion last week as the Solana Beach City Council approved a zoning change that will ensure the property remains open space in perpetuity.

Gerri Retman — one of the most ardent supporters of preserving the land now known as Harbaugh Seaside Trails —took to the dais filled with emotion on April 12. On her chest she wore a pin that had belonged to Margaret Schlesinger, Solana Beach’s first mayor, who died last year.

Retman invoked the long fight against the series of drastic proposals for the parcel — and how each time the community rallied to push back.

“We held out and here we are today. This rezone is another important milestone and will forever be a part of the history and the legacy of this land,” she said, starting to choke up. “This land, with its beautiful views, was meant to be an open space and the actions of our very first council on our very first day as a city that made it very clear that they agreed.”

The motion was formality — the city put the land into a conservation easement in November 2014—but one imbued with the profoundest of meaning.

“In some ways this is like the culmination of our city and one of the last major milestones,” said Councilman David Zito. “Being able to actually close out on this and say … it’s now preserved in perpetuity, it makes us feel that yeah, we’ve finally accomplished the purpose behind becoming a city.”

Mayor Mike Nichols thanked the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy for taking the risk of putting up the $3.75 million needed to buy the land in December 2011, on the mere promise of eventual repayment. That set off a campaign to pay them back. Donations large and small — from schoolchildren’s allowance to the multi-million sums. A $1 million grant from Caltrans closed that loop.

Nichols went on to thank the countless activists who stood their ground against development and led to the council’s action last week.

“We’re fortunate to be up here and be the ones to vote, but it should be a vote that everybody gets to raise their hand in the city and say ‘We did this,’” he said. “We’ve had our celebrations and our thank yous, but you can’t say thank you enough for something like this because it will matter in 100 years.”

A brief but heartfelt applause went up once the council made its unanimous vote.

The Conservancy can now move forward with its plan to transform the land into a network of trails with various habitat types, a viewing deck and a monument to the donors and activists who made it possible.

“We’re going to start with a clean slate,” said Executive Director Doug Gibson.

Environmental review documents should go to city this summer, and the city will shepherd the project through state environmental requirements. If all goes according to plan, construction should begin later this year and take about a year to complete.

See the Conservancy’s plans at