Gateway lagoon property still at risk; funding still needed

By Claire Harlin

It’s been a little over a year since the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy purchased the 3.4-acre Gateway Property that sits between Solana Beach and Cardiff along Highway 101, with private investors coming forward with the funding that made the purchase possible. But while the community so far has worked long and hard to raise $2.4 million of the $3.75 million purchase price to pay those investors back, the fight isn’t over yet — and until it is, the property could still end up in the hands of another buyer.

“The land is secure, but not yet saved,” said longtime resident Gerri Retman-Opper, who has pioneered efforts to save the land, which provides a buffer to the adjacent San Elijo Lagoon, since the 1990s. “A little over a year has gone by and people start to forget about it, but people need to keep in mind it’s vulnerable and could go back on the market.”

There’s still about $1.4 million to be raised to cover the $3.75 million purchase price, which was made in December 2011, only months after conservancy officials learned that the land was available. At that time, at least a couple other entities were competing to buy the property, which makes fundraising even more urgent, Opper said. And on March 20, the Solana Beach City Council recognized that urgency by moving fundraising efforts up on its official priority list and establishing an ad hoc committee consisting of councilmembers Lesa Heebner and Tom Campbell to seek out sources.

“I wholeheartedly support exploring options to fill the gap,” said Opper. “There are still people out there who want to buy it, and if we fail, they are going to be jumping on it.”

The council’s move to step in and help with fundraising efforts came after San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy Director Doug Gibson presented a promising report on funds raised thus far. Not only have individuals carried the biggest weight, accounting for nearly $2.3 million, but 35 percent of individual donors have been from Solana Beach. While Gibson said the conservancy’s initial strategy was to gain about $1.8 million from public sources, so far none have contributed. Foundations account for about $81,000 and corporations for $29,000.

Gibson said the conservancy’s goal is to pay off investors by the end of this fiscal year, and it continues to employ its direct mail campaign while also asking individuals and seeking grants.

Over the past three decades there have been several proposed hotel developments on the land, which ended with passionate opposition from the community. Gibson said after the recent purchase, he received a call from a local developer who said he was ready to buy the property when the conservancy fails.

“That type of mentality gives us just that much more umph to get this completed,” Gibson said. “Whether it’s for the community or animals who live out there … We feel this is a very important community project. I hope we can engage and strategize as much as we can in this workplan fiscal cycle.”

Mayor Mike Nichols responded with praise to the conservancy and donors for how far they have come.

“It’s not locked up,” he said. “We need to make sure we don’t let that slip back into the hands of developers.”

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