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FPUD issues Request for Proposal for its Santa Margarita River property

Joe Naiman

Village News Correspondent

The Fallbrook Public Utility District has issued a Request for Proposal for interested parties to acquire FPUD's Santa Margarita River property.

A 4-1 FPUD board vote Sept. 25, with Milt Davies opposed, approved the issuance of an RFP for a transaction agreement which would include preservation of access to the trails on the land.

"That was to issue a request for proposals to see what options are out there to preserve the property," said FPUD acting general manager Jack Bebee.

In the late 1940s the FPUD board decided to pursue building a dam on the Santa Margarita River, and the district purchased the 1,384-acre property with plans to use the land for the dam. Issues involving Camp Pendleton water rights needed to be resolved at higher government levels, and by the time that occurred environmental and funding issues prevented the dam from being built. The plans for the dam have been replaced with the Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project which would enhance groundwater recharge and recovery capacity within the lower Santa Margarita River basin and develop a program to increase available water supplies for Camp Pendleton and FPUD.

In September 2015 FPUD's board approved a sale agreement of the 1,384-acre property to Western Rivers Conservancy for $9,975,000. The purchase and sale agreement stipulated an escrow closing date of December 31, 2016, unless Western Rivers Conservancy chose to increase the deposit and extend escrow to June 30, 2017. The revenue from the sale would have been earmarked to construct the Conjunctive Use Project facilities.

The expectation was for the land to be placed into a permanent conservation easement, and the purchase and sale agreement stipulated that a recreational trails easement as well as a long-term stewardship agreement would be finalized before the close of escrow. The process would have involved The Wildlands Conservancy undertaking the role as the long-term steward of the entire land with an equestrian easement being granted to the Fallbrook Trails Council. Concurrence in writing by FPUD, Western Rivers Conservancy, The Wildlands Conservancy, and the Fallbrook Trails Council would have been necessary for the agreement to be finalized.

On June 26 the FPUD board voted 3-2 to reject a motion which would have extended the escrow agreement with Western Rivers Conservancy for an additional 90 days.

The Santa Margarita River property includes approximately 18 miles of multi-use trails for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding. FPUD owns the trails but has a maintenance agreement with the Fallbrook Trails Council. The county's general plan designates the property as Public Agency Lands while the zoning is S80 (Open Space) for all but a 3.6-acre parcel which has A70 (Limited Agriculture) zoning.

"A condition of any proposal is to preserve the property and the trails," Bebee said.

Proposals must be received by Jan. 15, 2018. Each proposal will include the proposed compensation to FPUD, the terms and conditions of the transaction, and a detailed summary including ownership structure and principals, management experience, and financial capacity to complete the transaction and preserve the property.

FPUD staff will evaluate the proposals based on the ability of the proposal to meet the stated FPUD needs, goals, and objectives and to demonstrate the financial capacity to complete the transaction. The evaluations and potential interviews will be used to determine the one proposal which will be recommended to the FPUD board for approval.


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