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By Joe Naiman
Village News Correspondent 

FPUD to expand Santa Margarita trailhead parking lot


Last updated 9/17/2018 at 9:51am

The sale of the Fallbrook Public Utility District's Santa Margarita property to The Wildlands Conservancy is still in escrow, but FPUD will be expanding the parking lot of the Santa Margarita River Trailhead prior to the completion of the sale.

FPUD's board voted 4-1 Aug. 27 with Charley Wolk in opposition to approve the expansion including the $10,260 expense FPUD will incur.

"It's a minor adjustment to the parking area to help get the property ready for transition to The Wildlands Conservancy," said FPUD general manager Jack Bebee.

Once escrow closes and The Wildlands Conservancy owns the property more significant improvements to the parking lot will take place, but the earlier work on the property will help expand available parking at the trailhead.

On April 30 the FPUD board voted 4-1 to approve the sale and purchase agreement for the 1,384-acre property along with escrow instructions. If the sale is finalized The Wildlands Conservancy will pay FPUD $10 million for the 1,384-acre property which was at one time planned for a dam along the Santa Margarita River.

The Wildlands Conservancy has placed a $50,000 non-refundable deposit which will be applied toward the purchase price if escrow closes. Escrow must close prior to April 20, 2019, although if The Wildlands Conservancy wishes to extend the close of escrow to April 20, 2020, the conservancy can do so by submitting a written request and providing an additional $200,000 non-refundable deposit within 30 days of that written request.

The state's voters passed Proposition 68 in the June 5 election. Proposition 68 authorizes $4 billion of general obligation bonds for state and local park, environmental protection, water infrastructure, and flood protection programs. The proposal from The Wildlands Conservancy to purchase the property included using a $10 million Proposition 68 grant to fund the purchase, but the California Coastal Commission has not yet allocated that money to The Wildlands Conservancy.

The conditions of escrow also include that a trail easement be recorded and that The Wildlands Conservancy will manage the property in accordance with an integrated resource management plan which will preserve the existing 18-mile trail system on the property, maintain year-round access to the property for passive recreational uses, and preserve the property from development.

The Santa Margarita property includes approximately 18 miles of multi-use trails for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding. FPUD currently owns the trails but has a maintenance agreement with the Fallbrook Trails Council.

The escrow agreement also calls for The Wildlands Conservancy to manage the property through an on-site preserve manager and a ranger beginning 90 days after the escrow opening date and continuing until the close of escrow.

The expansion of the parking lot will involve grading although the area to be graded is already disturbed so no environmental impacts will occur. FPUD staff will perform the work, which will take approximately 40 hours, and FPUD will also need to rent a larger excavator and a bulldozer. FPUD's $10,260 estimated cost covers $6,360 for a three-person labor crew and $3,900 for equipment rental.


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