The City of Chula Vista’s financial ship is sinking. With a projected deficit of $20 million for the next fiscal year, the city is slashing services and tossing programs overboard, trying to stay afloat. One cut proposed by the city is to close the Chula Vista Nature Center.
The Chula Vista Nature Center, open since 1987, educates the public on regional wetland- and wildlife-conservation issues. Over 65,000 people visit the center each year; 15,000 of those are school children from around the city that visit free of charge.
During the past three weeks, community activists raised nearly $400,000 to keep the Nature Center open — One anonymous donor matched $125,000 in contributions from the community, the rest came from the Sempra Foundation.
Now the city is considering pillaging those funds to plug up the other holes in its budget.
Supporters of the Nature Center are urging community members to show up at a January 6 city-council hearing that could determine the fate of the center. They say that the city would be wasting more money by closing the center, considering that over the past ten years, the city — with help from some state grants and private donors — poured over $10 million into capital improvements (including a new shark aquarium and a bald eagle exhibit). Revenues from annual memberships would also need to be reimbursed.
The cost to operate the facility is a little over $900,000 a year, though it generates approximately $330,000 a year from grants and admission fees.
“There’s been very little commitment from our city management,” says one anonymous Nature Center volunteer, ”and very little direction from our city council on the future of the Nature Center. Now there are funds to keep it in operation for six months. But for many of our donors, they’re saying, 'Why are we going to donate when the Nature Center doesn’t even have the support of its own city?' There are no guarantees and little to no direction coming from the city.”
The city council will hear the staff’s recommendation on the future of the Nature Center at the January 6 meeting. Go tosavethechulavistanaturecenter.com for more.