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1,600 acres of open space conserved in SR 76 corridor

Rancho Lilac

With the recent acquisition of the 902-acre Rancho Lilac property in Valley Center, SANDAG and Caltrans have completed an ambitious plan to preserve 1,600 acres of open space in the State Route 76 corridor in North San Diego County.

Rancho Lilac is a crown jewel in the SANDAG Environmental Mitigation Program (EMP), which is funded by $850 million from a regional half-cent sales tax for transportation known as TransNet. Through the EMP, SANDAG works with Caltrans to purchase, conserve, and restore native habitats as offsets to disturbances caused by transportation projects.

Considered a model by other agencies, the program enables SANDAG to comprehensively satisfy mitigation requirements by buying land in advance of projects, in larger parcels, and at lower prices. This approach to environmental mitigation not only expedites projects, it also ensures that conservation is not done in a piecemeal fashion.

Since taking effect in 2008, the EMP has paid for 19 properties totaling 2,295 acres throughout the county. Much of the land was previously slated for development. About $83.5 million have been spent to preserve sensitive habitats that support threatened wildlife, such as the least Bell’s vireo and arroyo toad.

“The EMP has been a remarkable success story,” SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos said. ”While the pace of habitat conservation by some public agencies and nonprofits has slowed considerably due to the faltering economy, the EMP continues to make steady progress in preserving open space in the county, acquiring several important properties a year.”

Within the SR 76 corridor, the EMP has gone above and beyond legal requirements to set a new “net benefit” mitigation standard. In addition to land acquisitions, the EMP also funds wildlife crossings, directional wildlife fencing, and other improvements to support wildlife habitat connectivity.

Rancho Lilac, purchased for $16.5 million in October, is the largest single acquisition by the EMP. The property sits adjacent to other large tracts of critical habitat that have already been preserved. 

Spread over gentle hills and valleys greened by Keys Creek, the sprawling ranch is called “a valuable and rare intact block of habitat” by The Nature Conservancy. It contains 17 different vegetation communities, including cotton willow riparian forest, chaparral, coastal sage scrub, and oak woodland, as well as historical buildings representative of early ranch life in Southern California.

Between 1945 and 1962, Col. Irving Salomon and his wife, Cecile hosted many politically and socially influential people at Rancho Lilac, including President Dwight Eisenhower, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, United Nations Undersecretary-General Ralph Bunche who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for creating an Arab-Israeli peace pact, and honeymooning movie star Myrna Loy.

For more information about the TransNet Environmental Mitigation Program visit www.keepsandiegomoving.com/emp. To view more Rancho Lilac photos visit the SANDAG Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SANDAGregion.

Project Manager(s)

Keith Greer, Principal Regional Planner
Phone: (619) 699-7390, E-mail: keith.greer@sandag.org

For media inquiries, please contact the SANDAG Public Information Office at (619) 699-1950 or pio@sandag.org.