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SANDAG acquires land for preservation in North County


Two parcels of land with high-quality coastal scrub habitat and two breeding pairs of endangered California gnatcatcher have been acquired for open space preservation by SANDAG as part of its TransNet Environmental Mitigation Program (EMP).

“We are pleased to announce that this is the 20th property acquired under the TransNet Environmental Mitigation Program,” SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos said. “Over the past three years alone, SANDAG has helped preserve and restore about 2,300 acres of important habitat throughout San Diego County.”

The property – two parcels adding up to 5.81-acres – is located next to the San Elijo Lagoon, east of Manchester Avenue between MacKinnon Road and Ocean Cove Drive, in the City of Encinitas. Two residential units had been proposed for development on the environmentally sensitive site owned by the Laser/Kramer Family Trusts.

The cost of the acquisition was $1.5 million. Funds for the purchase came from the regional TransNet half-cent sales tax extended by voters in 2004. The TransNet extension created the EMP to preserve and restore native habitats to compensate for disturbances caused by transportation projects. The acquisition, which closed escrow on Jan. 6, is intended to partially mitigate the impacts of projects planned in the Interstate 5 North Coast Corridor.

Title of the property is expected to be transferred to the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, a nonprofit organization founded in 1987 by a group of Cardiff and Solana Beach residents to protect and restore the resources of the 915-acre reserve, its watershed, and related ecosystems. 

Doug Gibson, executive director and principal scientist for the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, said while the Laser property is small in size, it is significant in environmental value. In addition to the federally listed California gnatcatcher, the site contains six sensitive plant species, including southern coastal bluff scrub. It also serves as a crucial wildlife connection due to a large drainage pipe underneath the property that enables animals to travel back and forth between the east and west sides of I-5.

“We are extremely excited about the acquisition. We’ve been trying to get this site acquired for over 12 years,” Gibson said.  

Considered a model for other agencies, the EMP allows SANDAG to comprehensively satisfy mitigation requirements by buying land in advance of projects, often in larger parcels and at lower prices. EMP purchases are done strategically according to targets set in regional habitat conservation plans. 

The acquisition was supported by the California Coastal Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, and the City of Encinitas. In a letter endorsing the acquisition, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, “Preservation and management of the Laser property would be a positive contribution to regional habitat conservation.”

For more information visit

Project Manager(s)

Keith Greer, Principal Regional Planner
Phone: (619) 699-7390, E-mail:

For media inquiries, please contact the SANDAG Public Information Office at (619) 699-1950 or