In front of a standing-room only crowd of people wearing green “Pismo Preserve” shirts, the Pismo Beach City Council unanimously voted to give $900,000 toward the purchase of a 900-acre property located in its backyard.
“We've gotten so many emails and phone calls from our constituency, I feel our taxpayer base supports us allocating funds,” Mayor Shelly Higginbotham said. “It is taxpayer money.”
The city's allocation leaves the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County with $1.5 million left to raise to close the $10 million deal to buy the land by August. PB Coast View LLC, a Delaware-based corporation, is selling the property.
The council meeting at times felt like an auction, as council members debated how much money they felt comfortable parting with from various city funds. The money will come from three areas: $575,000 from the general fund; $125,000 from park development fees; $200,000 from a fund that gets revenues from an assessment added to hotel stays.
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The city staff outlined about $3.7 million that could be used from those three funds, but noted a number of projects and priorities that could take a large chunk of that money.
Still, numerous speakers urged the council to approve as much as possible — dig deep, a few people said — including a handful of students from Nipomo and Central Coast New Tech high schools.
“We have a moment to do something grand for generations to come,” Nipomo High senior Dylan Gillespie said. As a runner, the trail system planned for the preserve would be amazing, he said, and added, “Runners eat a lot. We would be coming to eat here.”
Kara Woodruff, a member of the conservancy's board of trustees, was among several people who urged the council to donate $1.1 million.
“The amount that the city of Pismo Beach contributes could very well make or break the project,” she said. “Let this be your legacy. Stretch yourself and know that what you do today is something that future generations will be able to enjoy.”
The Land Conservancy is trying to raise $12 million — $10 million to buy the property and $2 million for infrastructure improvements and to establish a maintenance endowment.
The property offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean from its rolling hills, where the conservancy envisions a permanent open space with 10 miles of trails for hikers, cyclists and equestrians.
Such a vast, pristine area open to public use, with proximity to the ocean and urban amenities, is a rarity, Land Conservancy Executive Director Kaila Dettman said.
“There is no place like this on the West Coast of our country,” Dettman said. “I don't think we can even understand the benefits it will give us over the long term.”
The entrance would be located off Mattie Road — just down the street from Pismo Beach’s city hall. City Manager Jim Lewis called the ranch property, with its oak woodlands, grassy areas and coastal views, “the backdrop of our community.”
Before the meeting, the Land Conservancy had already secured $5.6 million in funding (including $4 million from the California State Coastal Conservancy and $1.1 million from the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors). Another $4 million request is pending with the Wildlife Conservation Board.
With $900,000 from Pismo Beach, conservancy officials hope to get the remaining $1.5 million from local governments and community sources. Arroyo Grande recently agreed to give $40,000, and Grover Beach will allocate $5,000. On July 31, the Regional Water Quality Control Board is expected to consider a request for $800,000.