50.5 acres of coastal habitat acquired for open space


Batiquitos Bluffs, 50.5 acres of coastal habitat just south of the Batiquitos Lagoon, has been set aside for open space.

On a hillside overlooking the lagoon and Batiquitos Bluffs, it was announced April 7 that the regional planning agency SANDAG acquired the land for $6 million as part of an improvement program targeting the Interstate 5 corridor.

“I know how important it is that we provide these wild, open spaces so that people can appreciate nature,” Encinitas Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear said at the press conference.

A portion of the land was once slated for development.

Plans called for 19 homes on 10 acres of the 50.5-acre property, most of which is in Encinitas, just southwest of the La Costa Avenue and El Camino Real intersection. The northern tip of the property is in Carlsbad, adjacent to the 610-acre Batiquitos Lagoon.

The Encinitas Planning Commission in 2009 approved the housing project, but residents and environmental groups appealed it to the California Coastal Commission. That agency voted in 2012 to strike it down, saying it would hurt wildlife in the area and sensitive habitat.

Encinitas resident Joan Herskowitz, who filed an appeal of the planning commission’s decision on behalf of Buena Vista Audubon Society, said the land is a key piece in a larger wildlife corridor, which includes the Batiquitos Lagoon to the north.

“This property, if developed, would have been a breach of the wildlife corridor,” Herskowitz said. She added the scenic views have also been preserved.

“It’s been a long haul, but it was worth it,” she said.

After the coastal commission voted down the 10-home development, Herskowitz said the fight was far from over. The next step was finding a willing buyer to preserve the site. She credited SANDAG with stepping up to the plate.

SANDAG, in partnership with Caltrans, bought the land last month from Batiquitos Land LLC for $6 million. The six-member LLC voted to approve the sale, according to Keith Greer, regional environmental planner with SANDAG.

Funds for the acquisition came from TransNet, the region’s half-cent sales tax for transportation projects and preservation efforts like Batiquitos Bluffs. SANDAG administers TransNet dollars.

According to SANDAG officials, the land was purchased to fulfill open space commitments in the North Coast Corridor Program, a $6.5 billion package of freeway, rail, bike and environmental projects for the I-5 corridor. Last August, the coastal commission approved the plan.

Over the life of the program, SANDAG expects to spend $250 million to preserve and restore coastal habitat.

“The preservation of the Batiquitos Bluffs property is just the beginning of our efforts,” SANDAG Chair Jack Dale said.

A walking trail to the southwest of La Costa Avenue and El Camino Real intersection runs adjacent to Batiquitos Bluffs. While on the trail, Greer told a small crowd that invasive plants will be removed and replaced with native ones in the near future.

At the press conference, Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation President Fred Sandquist said the acquisition will link the Batiquitos Bluffs and the lagoon. He noted the lagoon is home to 180 species of birds and plenty of marine life.

“By this acquisition, most of the lagoon and surrounding area is under habitat management.” Sandquist said. “I think you’re going see to see a lot of improvements here in the coming years, which is good for future generations.”