Pismo Preserve project gets $1.1 million donation from county

dsneed@thetribunenews.comMay 20, 2014 

Using poetry and heartfelt pleas, dozens of San Luis Obispo County residents, including many high school students, urged the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to approve $1.1 million in seed money for the Pismo Preserve land conservation project.

The Pismo Preserve is a project of the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County to protect 900 acres of open space in the hills behind Pismo Beach and open it free of charge to the public. The land must be purchased by Aug. 1 from its owners, PB Coast View LLC, for $12 million.

Over the next several weeks, the Land Conservancy will be asking the California Coastal Conservancy and Wildlife Conservation Board for $8 million in grants. A strong showing of support in the form of local matching funds is necessary for those requests to succeed, said Kaila Dettman, the Land Conservancy’s executive director.

“If this request is not approved, the effort will likely fail,” she said.

In the end, supervisors voted unanimously to donate $1.1 million for the cause, $100,000 more than county staff was recommending. The money comes from county park fees collected on residential development.

The extra $100,000 came at the recommendation of the county Parks Commission and will be used to help defray the costs of maintaining and operating the park. The park fee fund has $2.5 million in unallocated funds, said Curtis Black, county parks director.

Much of the vocal support for the project Tuesday came from more than 20 South County high school students, particularly members of the Nipomo High School Conservation Club. They stressed what a valuable recreational resource the park, with its more than 10 miles of ready-made trails, will be for young people who often spend too much time watching television and playing video games.

“Although this property has a price, its value is priceless,” said Spenser Severance, a Nipomo High junior and president of the school’s conservation club.

Kevin Drabinski, field representative for Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, agreed. He read into the record a love poem he was inspired to write after taking a tour of the proposed preserve last month and seeing its natural beauty.

“Up at the top of this curvaceous crest of the Pismo Preserve, she is friend to all the animals and shelter to the widest array of flora and fauna,” he said. “And in her hair she wears the most delicate and tiny wildflowers.”

Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes Pismo Beach, challenged the city of Pismo Beach to match the county’s donation. He said tourist businesses in the city would benefit most directly from conservation of the preserve.

“I don’t want to take any chances,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Pismo Beach Mayor Shelly Higginbotham said the city is scheduled to discuss whether to contribute to the Land Conservancy’s effort at its June 17 meeting.

“I know my colleagues are very excited about the preserve ... and see the benefit not only to the city but the county as a whole,” she said. “But we haven’t had a formal in-council discussion about where the money would come from.”

The city collects developer impact fees that go toward local parks, but she questioned whether those funds could be used for a park outside city limits. The money could possibly come out of the city’s general fund, or from Measure C, the city’s half-percent sales tax measure.

Pismo’s park development fund currently has more than $600,000, said Nadia Feeser, the city’s finance director.

Higginbotham said the city has supported the conservancy by waiving fees at several fundraising events for the Pismo Preserve held at Dinosaur Caves Park.

In addition to the agency funding, the Land Conservancy hopes to raise $700,000 in smaller local donations. The group is already halfway to that goal, having received donations from 600 individuals and businesses ranging from $2 to $1,000.

Tuesday’s vote left them optimistic they will succeed, said Daniel Bohlman, the group’s conservation director.

“I think we are feeling pretty confident right now,” he said. “This is a pivotal moment.”

Senior staff writer Cynthia Lambert contributed to this story.

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