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County open to buying part of Botanic Garden

The county could buy 4.8 acres of the San Diego Botanic Garden. Officials believe such a move would reduce uncertainty over the lease situation and as a result boost donations.
The county could buy 4.8 acres of the San Diego Botanic Garden. Officials believe such a move would reduce uncertainty over the lease situation and as a result boost donations.
( / Jared Whitlock)

Officials unexpectedly announced plans they believe would ensure the future of the San Diego Botanic Garden during the July 9 Encinitas council meeting.

San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts reported the county is open to buying 4.8 acres, the city’s share of the garden.

“We believe this is a tremendous opportunity for Encinitas,” Roberts said.

Currently, the San Diego Botanic Garden Foundation leases the 37-acre property from the city and county under two separate agreements. Yet the leases end a decade apart, creating potential legal problems and long-term uncertainty, garden officials have said.

County involvement would ease worries, said Julian Duval, president and CEO of the botanic garden, after the agenda item concluded.

“It guarantees stability for the garden,” he said.

In turn, more would feel confident donating to garden facilities, Duval said.

Notably, the foundation is fundraising for a 9,300-square-foot educational pavilion — complete with classrooms, an amphitheater and kitchen — next to Hamilton Children’s Garden, Duval added.

“We have plants in the garden that would literally live over 500, maybe even 1,000 years,” Duval said. “They need a place to grow.”

The proposal was announced before a scheduled agenda item regarding the city’s lease options for its portion of the garden. However, Duval asked the council to delay consideration until more details of the potential purchase are ironed out.

Roberts said if the county owned the land, it could pay for up to $2 million of the $4 million pavilion project. The funds would come from the county’s Capital Improvement Needs Assessment Program.

“The county is allowed to build projects on county land,” Roberts said.

Outside of council chambers, Roberts said Duval brought the lease situation to his attention recently, sparking the idea.

“We want to make sure everyone is on the same page,” Roberts said, adding that more time is needed to talk with all parties involved.

He noted the acquisition could involve a number of scenarios, with a land swap being one. As another possibility, the county could buy only a portion of the 4.8 acres. It would then have more money to contribute to the pavilion.

The historical book value of the city’s portion is $1.8 million, according to a staff report.

If a purchase deal can’t be worked out, the county is also interested in drawing up a new 55-year lease for its portion on the land, Roberts said. That way, the city and county leases would expire at the same time.

Roberts added his goal is to make sure the garden remains for horticulture in perpetuity.

Duval noted the potential purchase could also help the garden expand.

The Leichtag Foundation, located just north of the garden, has proposed gifting 10 to 12 of its adjacent acres, but only if certain requirements are met.

Notably, the garden needs a more stable ownership or lease situation. And it must build a new parking lot, which is on the drawing board.

This article originally said the city’s portion is valued at $1.8 million. However, it has since been updated to clarify the figure is the historical book value. Requests to determine the year of the assessment have yielded no results thus far.


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