City Open Space Ready to Finalize

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

June 11, 2020

Preservation of Cerrito Peak, a.k.a. Eagle Rock, is moving forward, after the City of Morro Bay signed an agreement with the Morro Bay Open Space Alliance for reimbursement on the costs for the treasured mound of granite with sweeping views of the bay.

Under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) MBOSA agreed to pay the City some $265,000 by July 31 to complete the transaction that dates back about 5 years and bring to an end the saga of Eagle Rock.

Back in 2011, the late Dan Reddell, a local real estate broker and businessman got a permit for a single family residence on the northern flank of Eagle Rock.

Reddell had purchased an existing lot from a subdivision created before the City was incorporated in 1964 — a lot that existed mostly on paper, as the City never extended the street system to serve the peak despite accepting a right of way for a road. Reddell said he wanted to build his dream home.

Some lots on Eagle Rock, at lower elevations, had already been developed with homes, and Reddell’s project would have been the highest up on the northern flank of the peak.

Neighbors, many of who said they enjoyed climbing the peak with its eucalyptus grove that fills with Monarch butterflies in winter, fought Reddell’s project.

When Reddell was voted a permit approval by the City Council on appeal, the decision triggered a lawsuit by Save the Park a local activist group joined by the Xerxes Society, a Monarch butterfly conservation group.

As a result of that lawsuit, which ended in August 2015, the land use entitlements were “provisionally set aside,” according to a City report.

Reddell resubmitted his plans for a second go-round but fell ill and died with his dream unfulfilled.

After Reddell’s death, his widow Janne Reddell, approached the City about a possible purchase. She agreed to sell the property to the City for $350,000 — a price the City said was undervalued — and the City forced her to agree to reimburse some $85,000 in legal bills the City said it incurred dealing with the lawsuit. That deal was finalized in May 2017.

Thus the net cost to the City for Eagle Rock was $265,000. At the time, a former City Council said it wanted to find a non-profit organization to purchase Eagle Rock and MBOSA was formed as a result of that.

The group has since expanded its scope to seek a greenbelt around the City and was a participant in the recent efforts to preserve the Chevron Dog Beach and other portions of the oil company’s extensive coastal lands.

As part of the MBOSA-City of Morro Bay agreement, the group can erect and maintain one “moderately-sized sign or monument at the entrance to the Eagle Rock detailing its history, as well as an additional plaque or bench honoring significant preservation donors.”

There’s one other significant stipulation in the agreement: “The City will continue to own and maintain Eagle Rock, exclusive of the sign/monument, and, on or before January 31, 2021, take all necessary legal steps to preserve Eagle Rock as undeveloped, including designation as an environmentally sensitive habitat area.”

Ironically there are still two undeveloped lots on Cerrito Peak. Community Development Director Scot Graham acknowledged that the two lots — on the southern side of the peak — are real and still exist though undeveloped.

Some have suggested the City give up the right of way as a way to further discourage their development, but Graham told EBN that they might be accessible from another direction or through an adjacent property. Putting in a road on the right of way the City has, would be very difficult.

What they have is two legal lots that are effectively landlocked now and would be difficult to develop, though Reddell’s project was approved and was quite feasible to build.

Whomever owns those lots now — the previous owner also died a few years ago — could pursue a project and possibly repeat Reddell’s odyssey.

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