County pledges $2.1 million for Botanic Garden projects


The historical Larabee House at the San Diego Botanic Garden has long been used for unhistorical purposes: office space for garden staff and volunteers.

But now, thanks to county funds, the entire building will be transformed into an exhibit and event space in honor of Ruth and Charles Larabee, the garden’s founders who once lived there.

“Part of the Larabee House is open to visitors, but I look forward to the day when it’s entirely open to them,” said Julian Duval, the Botanic Garden’s executive director. “This is something our Master Plan calls for.”

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has approved $2.1 million for rehabbing the 1940s-era Larabee House and two other Botanic Garden projects, officials told the Encinitas Advocate last week. The money marks the single largest investment ever in the Botanic Garden, according to county Supervisor Dave Roberts.

Roberts said he was tasked with identifying which county property in his district is best suited for capital improvement funds.

“I looked around my district and did a lot of site visits, and I really felt that we have this treasure in the San Diego Botanic Garden,” Roberts said, adding that the $2.1 million will “take it to the next level.”

The San Diego Botanic Garden Foundation leases the 37-acre property from the city and county. Roberts said the Botanic Garden brings a lot of tourists to the area, and the investment will help bring more.

“The county believes that any types of attractions that we can work collaboratively on are good for the overall health of the community,” Roberts said.

Besides the Larabee House, the county money will convert the Lawn House building, which stores maintenance equipment, into a visitors center/library, according to Duval.

“People can learn more about the history of the garden and relax,” he said.

And to accommodate garden staff and volunteers, county money will go toward a new administrative and maintenance building on part of the property now used for overflow parking and storage.

The $2.1 million in funding for improvements was settled on as an alternative to an earlier county idea for the Botanic Garden.

Roberts and Botanic Garden representatives last year discussed the county potentially buying 4.8 acres, the city’s portion of the Botanic Garden. If the county owned that land, it would have been able to contribute to a $4 million campaign to build an education and events pavilion on the city-owned property.

Duval said the Botanic Garden is further along with fundraising for the events pavilion than anticipated, so the county shifted its focus to needs in the gardens’ Master Plan.

The county’s earlier idea to buy the land aimed to address a possible issue: the lease situation. The Botanic Garden’s lease with the city and lease with the county end a decade apart, creating potential legal problems.

Duval said he’s confident this matter can be resolved down the line.

“We have plenty of time to sort it out,” he said. “And we’ve shown we can work together.”

Roberts said it has yet to be determined how exactly the $2.1 million will be divvied up among the three Botanic Garden projects. The next step is design, and construction is expected to start sometime in 2016.

Duval hopes the improvements are completed in the next year or two.

He said the $2.1 million is another chapter in the Botanic Garden and county’s longstanding relationship. It all started, he said, when Ruth Larabee donated her 26.5 acres in the Botanic Garden to the county for a public park in 1957.

And Duval cited another example of recent collaboration: The county, Botanic Garden and a nonprofit teamed up for a coffee kiosk and refreshment area at the garden to provide employment options and training for adults with developmental disabilities.

“We’ve had a very longstanding relationship with the county that I’m glad to see continuing,” Duval said.