Legislative Panel Kills Budget Item to Provide Famosa Slough Funds

Times Staff Writer

Bursting a trial balloon even before environmentalists could get their hopes up, a budget conference committee on Friday rejected a $2-million appropriation to help the City of San Diego purchase the Famosa Slough wetlands.

The six-member panel, ironing out differences between the Assembly and Senate versions of the $37.5-billion state budget, decided Friday morning to adopt the Senate spending plan, which contained no money for acquiring the 20-acre wetlands.

“You win some and you lose some,” said Assemblyman Steve Peace (D-Chula Vista), who had inserted the proposed appropriation in the Assembly version of the budget several weeks ago.

“I thought we had a 50-50 shot,” added Peace, who was not present when budget conferees considered the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget Friday.

Peace said the state money “would have established a momentum. But this is not a killing blow.”


Jay Powell, conservation coordinator of the Sierra Club’s San Diego County chapter, said the budget vote will not deter local environmentalists, who have been “putting the pressure on” local officials to preserve Famosa Slough and finding substantial election-year support for their cause.

Powell said the San Diego City Council’s decision earlier this week to get an appraisal of the slough, coupled with the establishment of a Wetlands Protection Fund from contingency money that had been set aside for a recently settled lawsuit by the San Diego Gas & Electric, are clear indications that city officials are interested in purchasing the slough.

Environmentalists, who say the badly degraded marsh along West Point Loma Boulevard is an important wildlife habitat, want city officials to purchase the slough to halt a 400-unit waterfront condominium project proposed by developer Terry Sheldon.

Peace’s attempt to get state money to help the city with the purchase caught city officials and Assemblywoman Lucy Killea (D-San Diego) by surprise.

Killea applauded the move by her Democratic colleague as a significant, though probably insufficient, step toward preserving the wetlands. However, city officials worried that it would commit them to purchasing the wetlands before they have weighed the costs of acquisition, and of upgrading and maintaining the marsh as a wildlife habitat.

Some city officials are reportedly holding out hope that the state Coastal Conservancy might eventually purchase the slough.

“But that is just not going to happen,” said Peace.

He said there had been hope, when the slough was added to the designated coastal zone in 1979, that the state would buy it. But because of its relatively small size in comparison to other wetlands along the 840-mile coastline, Famosa Slough “continued its slide” down the state Coastal Conservancy’s priority list each year since.

Last year, in an action strongly opposed by San Diego environmental groups, the Legislature took the area out of the coastal zone and stripped away state Coastal Commission jurisdiction.

Under the special legislation, which Killea strongly opposed, development would be allowed on 10 acres of slough, but the developer would have to bear half the cost of upgrading and maintaining the remaining marshland.