A 33-acre Encinitas strawberry farm landed on mayor Catherine Blakespear's wish list this week when the real estate agent representing the family owners offered it to the City of Encinitas.
"It's just north of the San Elijo Conservancy," Blakespear said. "We don't have the money to buy it but I'd like to be able to."
The land — easily seen from the northbound I-5 offramp at Manchester Avenue — is the second half of a property that was split into two parcels last year. Caltrans bought 20 acres of the western half for about $7.2 million, which included buying out several cell-service providers' rights to place towers on the land.
"The remaining 33 acres are for sale — they're zoned R-3, which is residential," Blakespear said. "It would make a great open space."
It's not that the city is broke, she hastened to say. But cities usually need nonprofit partners and a blend of city money, grants, and nonprofit dollars to make a purchase like that palatable to taxpayers and to advance a plan to convert it to open space, she said.
The tumultuous multi-year effort for the city to acquire and repurpose the Pacific View property from the Encinitas School District left the city's leaders feeling a little timid about venturing into land acquisition again, Blakespear said. The city bought the 2.8-acre property for $10 million in 2015, issuing bonds to pay for the purchase.
Blakespear praised Caltrans' efforts on the adjacent parcel, which includes a park-and-ride lot and a trailhead for the San Elijo Lagoon. Caltrans plans to keep part of the land agricultural.
Caltrans project manager Arturo Jacobo confirmed that the agency's plans for the strawberry patch include five acres of community gardens. The park-and-ride lot will hold about 150 vehicles and will have charging stations for electric cars. There will also be bike lockers, he said.
The plan includes an eight-foot-wide tunnel under the I-5 to reach the eastern edge of the San Elijo Conservancy and several new trails, including one that runs north, parallel to and just west of I-5. And the agency is working with the conservancy to design a staging area for hikers and educational signs for the trail.
Both the community gardens and the 11 acres of open space will be turned over to the San Elijo Conservancy, Jacobo said. There are also plans for a native plant garden in the community garden space.
"We were able to work out keeping the land as open space and to contribute $800,000 to the project," he said.