In 1956, the highly active San Dieguito Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) faced a major challenge.
A committee headed by Don Royer of Solana Beach and John Topp of Leucadia was introducing Little League competition to the area but lacked land for playing fields.
Then-President Bill Arballo leaned on Don Lapham and Don Armstrong, both of Solana Beach, to come up with ideas to solve the roadblock.
They approached the Santa Fe Irrigation District that had land it had acquired through tax foreclosures. The ball park idea was appealing because a site between Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach was preferred by the Irrigation District over the possibility of a developer acquiring it to build a bunch of houses. The road from Solana Beach was considered one of Rancho’s scenic gateways.
District directors challenged the Jaycees to involve the county as the landowner. Fifth District Supervisor Dean Howell was all for it, however, the four other county lawmakers were flatly opposed. They argued there was no money in the budget for a park that was weed-covered and “out in the sticks.”
Armstrong and Lapham, with unwavering support from the president, were not to be denied A couple of steak dinners with generous quantities of libations helped the againers to see the light, and finally three of them voted for the project.
County Parks Director Gerald Cullison, who lived in Cardiff, used low risk prisoners for the first time to clear the land of brush, snakes and rabbits.
The Jaycees paid a token fee to the Irrigation District to transfer the 100-acre parcel to the county. A minor glitch occurred when the check was short of collateral and was returned marked “insufficient funds.” An emergency sale of road flares (a national Jaycee project) solved the problem.
Hundreds of visitors enjoy San Dieguito Park for all sorts of reasons.
A bronze plaque near the main entrance credits the Junior Chamber as the original sponsor.
It is considered to be the crown jewel of the park system thanks to the Jaycees vision. Efforts of a builder coveting the park for homes would be impossible because of a clause in the park document that provides that it remains a park otherwise the site will revert back to the Irrigation District.
Encinitas now faces a similar crossroad. Council members Tony Kranz and Lisa Shaffer with strong support from Mayor Teresa Barth have acquired the Pacific View school site in the center of the city.
Many uses have been put forward, but the major issue is how to pay for the purchase.
In spite of opposition from some sources, it will work out and decades from now hundreds of users will enjoy its facilities for a variety of reasons; thanks to the three decision makers who had the leadership and vision to make it a reality.
Bill Arballo is an Encinitas resident.