A year ago, most residents living in the vicinity of Famosa Slough thought the matter of what to do with the twenty-acre marsh had pretty much been resolved. The slough, located on the southeast corner of West Point Loma Boulevard and Montalvo Street in northern Point Loma, had been under the protection of the state coastal commission since 1979, and repeated attempts by property owner Alvin Hall to develop even a portion of the wetlands had been thwarted by various height and density restrictions and by strong neighborhood opposition. So it appeared the slough would remain unaltered for the foreseeable future, serving as a de facto wildlife preserve for more than fifty species of migratory birds, including the endangered least tern and many species of ducks and shorebirds.
But in July of 1983, developer Terry Sheldon took out an option to buy the marsh for an unspecified amount of money from its frustrated owner and began to devise a plan that would allow him to build on the site after all. And by the end of last year, he had come up with a solution he considered pretty fair: the ten acres in the center of the slough would be maintained and cleaned up to get rid of mosquitos — something the coastal commission never had funds for — while the other ten acres, forming a U adjacent to West Point Loma Boulevard, would house a three-story apartment complex containing 400 units.
In order to do so, however, Sheldon knew he would have to get the entire area out of coastal commission protection, since Hall had had problems in prior years with plans to develop even three of the twenty acres. So in February Sheldon circulated among area residents petitions that stated, “We live in the immediate area of the Famosa Slough. We support Senate Bill No. 1820 (Senator Ellis) to remove the Famosa Slough property from the state coastal commission jurisdiction. We want local control of decisions about potential environmental and residential development of the Famosa Slough property so that the slough can be cleaned up as soon as possible.” The petitions, circulated by paid petitioners door to door and at nearby shopping centers, were signed by more than 700 residents and sent to the state Senate’s Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee, which passed the Ellis bill – against strong opposition from the Sierra Club – in late April. The bill was subsequently passed by the Senate in June and sent to the Assembly Natural Resources Committee for further study.
Then things hit a snag. Shortly before the July 4 holiday, the pending legislation was passed by the assembly committee; a few days later, however, Assemblywoman Lucy Killea urged the bill be reconsidered on the grounds that several amendments had been mysteriously left out of the bill when it had been voted on and passed by the committee. The missing amendments included a requirement that Sheldon renovate and maintain the ten-acre Famosa Channel, just north of the slough across West Point Loma Boulevard; that he grant an easement for the undeveloped portion of the slough to the state Coastal Conservancy to guarantee he would not build on it; and that he place an additional acre of buffer between his apartments and the undeveloped zone, which he would have to maintain as a wildlife refuge. Killea’s request was granted, and the next assembly committee hearing has been set for August 7.
Some area residents, meanwhile, are crying foul themselves, maintaining the petitions circulated by Sheldon back in February made no mention of development, which they most definitely do not want. So with the help of the Sierra Club they’ve begun a petition drive of their own, asking the state legislature to reject the Ellis bill, keep the slough under state coastal commission protection, and prevent any kind of development. Susie Smith, who lives on Montalvo Street and is one of the people circulating the new batch of petitions, says she hopes to collect 1500 signatures and present them to the assembly committee before the August 7 meeting. “He (Sheldon) sent out a band of people to talk to the neighbors here,” Smith says, “and all they said was signing the petition meant they were in support of cleaning up the slough. But we didn’t understand what they meant.”
Sheldon, however, maintains that the people who signed the original petitions “should have known” he would not simply offer to clean up the slough and get nothing in return. “I don’t think they were misleading at all,” he says, referring to his petitions. He is confident the bill will eventually pass both houses of the state legislature, paving the way for him to start his $30 million project by the start of 1985. But if that does not happen, Sheldon says, he will still submit his plans to both the city and coastal commission – much as Hall did several times in years past – “and exercise every legal right I have.”