Solana Beach council vote accepts Gateway land as part of city’s conservation legacy

The piece of coastal property that’s partly responsible for Solana Beach becoming a city is now officially part of the community.

In a unanimous vote, the Solana Beach City Council on Nov. 19 accepted the Gateway property as a conservation easement from the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, forever protecting the parcel as open space.

“It has such meaning to our community — it’s pretty much the reason we’re incorporated,” said Deputy Mayor Lesa Heebner. “This is going to be a wonderful legacy for all of us who have been involved in this city and in this effort for many years.”

Located east of Coast Highway 101 across from Cardiff State Beach, the 3.44-acre parcel was long sought after by real estate developers and potential property owners. The people who pushed for Solana Beach’s incorporation in 1986 did so in part because they were outraged when the county approved plans for a hotel development on the site, which is the “gateway” or north entrance to the city.

“Please vote to accept the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy’s generous offer to grant this conservation easement to the city of Solana Beach,” said Gerri Retman-Opper with tears in her eyes, before the council’s 5-0 vote.

A 30-year Solana Beach resident, Retman-Opper spearheaded the fight against subsequent development proposals, which threatened community character, public views and the ecology of nearby San Elijo Lagoon. Because she played a critical role in the successful effort to save the property, Assemblywoman Toni Atkins named her as one of 78th Assembly District’s 2014 “Women of the Year.”

“Your ‘Yes’ vote is truly a legacy vote,” Retman-Opper said. “It will seal the protection of this open space forever.”

“We need an agreement that can be enforceable forever, after all of us are long gone and we forgot we why worked our butts off for years to protect this property,” added Solana Beach resident Gary Martin, who also played a large role in the effort.

In 2012, the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting, preserving and enhancing the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, acquired the Gateway property for $3.75 million in loans. Today, more than 1,100 contributors have raised $3.4 million toward paying off the lenders.

With San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy’s dedication of the land, Solana Beach has access to monitor and enforce the terms of the conservation easement and to prevent development. The conservancy, which is headed by Executive Director Doug Gibson, has also offered to restore the site to its natural condition, and then maintain the property as open space and natural habitat for native vegetation and wildlife.

During the meeting, Scott Griffiths, president of the conservancy’s board of directors, announced that former Solana Beach Mayor Tom Golich, David Winkler and other supporters donated $500,000, challenging the community to match the funds. Doing so would allow the conservancy to retire the entire acquisition debt in just three years and move forward with the restoration and enhancement of the site.

“It’s just so impressive and heartwarming that we’re really going to have this in perpetuity,” said Councilman Peter Zahn. “Every one of our descendants and every one who comes through our community can be touched by this and enjoy it.”

“That’s all we ever wanted,” added Mayor Thomas Campbell. “We just wanted to make sure that it couldn’t be taken away, couldn’t be changed.”