Giving Thanks

by Carolyn Chase


he last undeveloped coastal mesa of its kind is now Carmel Mountain Preserve, the City of San Diego's newest nature preserve. With views of the Pacific Ocean and Torrey Pines State preserve in the background, Pardee Construction Company officials presented Mayor Susan Golding with a ceremonial deed conveying 150 acres to the City as a "Thanksgiving gift for the citizens of San Diego."

Pardee has owned the mesa-top acreage and nearby land east of Carmel Valley for 20 years. Pardee executive Mike Madigan also revealed an approved subdivision map from 1910 that had entitled them to build 150 "one-acre estate homes with private driveways." Stating that only the Mayor and her closest environmental aide had been privy to this knowledge, it was Pardee's way of further making the point that they had operated patiently within the process while at the same time already having the rights to build there.

For twenty years community groups had fought various plans to build on the mesa. More than a year ago, Pardee, the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, the Sierra Club, Endangered Habitats League and other groups began what everyone sensed was the last chance to resolve it - one way or the other.

The result was Proposition M, which San Diego voters approved in the Nov. 3 election. Under Prop M, Pardee agreed to convey its land to the city with the condition that it be preserved in its natural state in perpetuity. In exchange, Pardee will be allowed to build on less-sensitive lands that will become the community of Pacific Highland Ranch, just north east of Carmel Mountain.

"Carmel Mountain was one of the most desirable areas in the entire region for creating a new neighborhood," Madigan stated, "But after ten years of debate and sitting down with these various groups, we understood that preservation is what the community truly wants. Pardee prides itself on its ongoing contributions to the community, and this will be, by far, our most significant contribution."

Carmel Mountain is considered a natural treasure by ecological organizations for several reasons. It's home to the largest remaining stand of an endangered plant ecosystem known as southern maritime chaparral. Carmel Mountain will also help provide open space connections that are critical to the long-term vitality of critters in nearby Torrey Pines State Park.

The dedication ceremony featured the unveiling of a plaque honoring the coalition that worked to preserve Carmel Mountain which will be placed in the park.

It states: "On behalf of the unprecedented coalition of community leaders, conservation groups, business organizations and residents who worked together to make Carmel Mountain Preserve a reality, we dedicate this last undeveloped coastal mesa of its kind in the world to the people of San Diego. May its natural wonders serve both a permanent refuge for rare and endangered plants and animals and a monument to the efforts of so many to preserve our natural heritage for future generations."

There was praise all around for a job well done. Harry Mathis, City Council representative for Carmel Valley stated, "The members of the incredible coalition who came together, resolved their differences and worked to preserve this precious pieces of our natural heritage deserve the highest commendations. Today's achievement is a remarkable one that sets a higher standard for community planning."

Mayor Golding remarked, "When it comes to Carmel Mountain, we had a diverse of array of people, with diverse interest, find common ground over what is definitely uncommon ground. Carmel Mountain Preserve is a unique and priceless gift to the people of San Diego."

Lisa Ross, Chair of the newly formed Friends of Carmel Mountain remarked, "Saving Carmel Mountain is something we've dreamed of for a long time and it has turned into much more. We never imagined from the beginning that as a result of this process Pardee would now be undertaking to be a more environmentally-friendly builder. But it shows what can be achieved with an uncommon coalition with lots of commitment."

Like most worthwhile things in today's world, it looks impossible from the beginning. It takes the assumption of great risk and the expenditure of great amounts of time and political work to reveal a path to success. There are literally hundreds of ways to fail along the way, and dozens of naysayers there to assure it. Along the way, everyone involved had to take some heat. I know I was on both the giving and receiving end throughout. But we did not fail. We endured against the odds - like the remaining chaparral.

Now we will all have something permanent and lasting to show future generations who will inherit this legacy of working together through great conflict, yet keeping a bigger goal in mind. In the face of great mistrust, disagreement and disbelief, we stood up for something together that could not be achieved separately. That is the true lesson of why coalition building is worth it.

This is also just the beginning. We must continue to work together to ensure what we've started together -- fulfills our promises of responsible conservation and growth that really works. We must carry on the principles of this uncommon coalition so that they prevail long into the future as Pacific Highlands Ranch and the other projects are designed and built.