How much money has the city allocated to open space in the 2012-13 budget?
More than $5 million has been transferred to a line item specific to the acquisition of open space and trails linkages. This amount constitutes the balance of the funds that were initially set aside by the City Council as a result of the passage of Proposition C. If an opportunity comes up to buy open space that the City Council feels is in the best interest of taxpayers, the City Council has the option to allocate this itemized funding at that time.
The city also has more than $1 million set aside in the budget for preservation and maintenance of open space and trails, not including the money that goes to maintaining the city’s developed and undeveloped park sites. In addition, the city has targeted $131,000 for a project to extend and improve trails in Calavera Hills and $60,000 for an update to the city’s trails master plan. The city is also working on a $1.4 million project to improve the coastal rail trail and is pursuing $334,000 for preliminary engineering for a pedestrian railroad crossing at Chestnut.
Why doesn’t the city purchase more private land for open space?
The city has been able to meet our ambitious goals for maintaining open space in the city through partnerships with other governmental agencies, private land owners and non-profit organizations relieving taxpayers of the cost to purchase and maintain natural open space. With this approach, we have been able to add approximately 1,400 acres of permanent open space to the city in the past 10 years without spending taxpayer money. This is the equivalent of adding over a third of an acre of open space to the city every day for 10 years. That brings the total amount of open space in the city to about 9,400 acres, the equivalent of nearly eight times the total land in Balboa Park.
What challenges does the city face in trying to buy land for open space?
The biggest challenge in acquiring open space is finding a willing seller who is offering a property at a reasonable price. The city tries to use local funds to leverage grant money, and those grants stipulate that the purchase price cannot exceed fair-market value. But if an owner doesn’t want to sell, neither the city nor anyone else can buy the land. Another challenge involves how a property being considered for purchase is zoned for land use. If it’s not already zoned as open space, the process of acquiring it for open space is more complicated. The city can change the zoning, but must find other suitable locations for the land use the open space would replace.
If land became available for open space, would the city consider purchasing it?
Yes. The city regularly reviews open space available from willing sellers. If an opportunity came up to add to the city’s open space in a way that was in the best interest of our taxpayers, we could buy it.
Why does the city focus on partnerships with other agencies to buy and maintain open space instead of buying it for the city to own and maintain?
The city has a responsibility to provide the best possible quality of life for its residents, while being financially responsible with taxpayer money. Open space can be expensive, not only to acquire, but to maintain. If the city can find ways to provide open space for the public without committing taxpayer dollars, it’s a win-win situation. For example, developers in Carlsbad are required to set aside open space as part of their developments and to pay for the upkeep of that open space. In this way city residents get the benefit of the open space without the expense. Sometimes the city teams with a private foundation or other public agency to pool resources to preserve open space. And in some instances another public agency, such as the California Department of Fish & Game, owns and maintains large parcels of natural open spaces in the city. The city does review available land on a regular basis and is ready to purchase land as open space if the right opportunity comes up.