By Bill Swank
The euphemism “landfill” entered our language in 1916, but its usage was not popularized until the late 1940s. In 1957, the City of San Diego planned to turn Tecolote Canyon into a landfill until concerned citizens from Clairemont and Linda Vista objected to their canyon becoming an official city dump.
In the early 1960s, developers proposed zoning the canyon for single family homes to be “stair-stepped down the canyon slopes” and a four-lane road connecting Tecolote Road near Mission Bay with Genesee Avenue below the construction site of Mesa College. In 1963, the Fireside Park Homeowners Association successfully crusaded at city hall to stop these projects.
This column will attempt to highlight the lengthy struggle, the heroes and their accomplishments. At that time, there were no provisions in the city charter and bylaws for the open space legislation we take for granted today.
It was in 1969 and, through the perseverance of community groups, a petition with 8,520 signatures of registered voters in Clairemont, Linda Vista and Kearny Mesa asked the city council to approve what became the landmark “San Diego Park District Procedural Ordinance.” Passage of this measure provided a blueprint for the concept of open space for the entire city.
According to an August 10, 1969 Sentinel article, the goal of the petition was to “retain the balance of nature while reducing noise and air pollution, preserve a natural habitat for our children, save land for future park, retain an area that will enhance community identity and value and preserve natural slopes, trees and streams.”
It wasn’t until January 1971 that the Tecolote Canyon Park Ordinance was initiated by a unanimous vote of city council, but adoption of the Tecolote Canyon Park Ordinance did not occur until July 1974.
A glacier could have moved through the valley faster.
Today, Eloise Battle is widely acknowledged as the savior of Tecolote Canyon, but she is quick to praise the contributions of many other concerned citizens. She begins reciting from the rolodex in her mind: Sherie Miller, Robert Fowble, Marian Bear, Ruby Zellman, Merlin Osterhaus, Sue Chaney, Grace “Peter” Sargent, Woodrow Wilson Twyman, George W. Scott and George Hemingway. The list goes on…
She gives credit to politicians Floyd Morrow, Mike Gotch, Valerie Stallings, Donna Frye, Lorie Zapf and Mayor Pete Wilson. Roger Hedgecock was their environment-friendly young attorney. Eloise has fond memories of an unlikely ally on the city council, builder Lee Hubbard. “He was a businessman who was always polite and listened. He didn’t represent our district, but he supported our efforts.”
Eloise reflects on the journey. “It was a small army of residents of Linda Vista and Clairemont who marched into city hall. We fought for every square inch of the park.”
She points to a large file cabinet at the Tecolote Canyon Nature Center that contains every document written about the canyon. Eloise suggests, “Somebody should write a book about the history.”
With a twinkle in her eye and a sense of irony, she produced an Evening Tribune column by Neil Morgan from September 23, 1974. The following item is highlighted:
“OUR TOWN. America’s Finest City is in the race for the 1974-75 All-America City Award. In San Diego’s official entry form submitted to the National Municipal League last week, Mayor Wilson cites, ‘seven years of determined – and often bitter and acrimonious – efforts by local citizens,’ which culminated this year in the purchase of Tecolote Canyon as permanent open space.”
Eloise chuckled and said, “We didn’t know about this until we read it in Neil Morgan’s column.”
[For the record, San Diego was designated an All-America City in 1962 and 1985-86 (Normal Heights), but not for the 1974-75 nomination. Cleveland is a five time All-America City winner. Go figure.]
The City of San Diego did receive three awards in 1975 from Environmental Monthly magazine. One was for the acquisition of Tecolote Canyon “for creative land use.”
Headlines from the November 13, 1977 Sentinel read, “Tecolote Open Space Park Panel Appointed.” The article stated, “Mayor Wilson appointed Eloise Battle to serve as chairwoman of the Tecolote Open Space panel. Battle headed the Save Open Space (SOS) committee, the group which fought to protect the canyon from development.”
A few days later, in a related matter, the Save Jutland Canyon Committee lost their “bitter battle” to prevent development of the Jutland Canyon in northwest Clairemont.
Finally, on July 1, 1978, at long last, Tecolote Canyon Natural Park was dedicated.
In 1981, the City and Friends of Tecolote Canyon planted the Marian R. Bear Memorial Grove of sycamore and oak trees in memory of the early Clairemont crusader. The 128-page Tecolote Canyon Natural Park Master Plan, prepared by the Tecolote Canyon Citizens Advisory Committee, was completed in December 1982.
A 1985 Los Angeles Times article chronicled the accomplishments of the “Tecolote Twins,” Eloise Battle and her neighbor, Sherie Miller. They remained vigilant and expressed concern about another proposed road through the park at that time.
Tecolote Canyon Nature Center opened in 1994. The San Diego Museum of Natural History prepared exhibits to highlight “the geology, biology and the human elements of the canyon.” There is “a real live active earthquake fault (the Rose Canyon Fault) that crosses Tecolote Canyon through the western (Pony League) ball fields.”
A partnership was formed with the Kumeyaay that introduced an early cultural element into the education programs. The center was expanded in 2002 and a native plant garden was added. The centerpiece is an ewa, the traditional shelter used by the Kumeyaay.
Although Elosie “retired” in 2012 and the “M. Eloise Battle Learning Center” dedicated in her honor, she can still be found at the center on Wednesdays from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM..
When KPBS and Union Bank honored her as a “2014 Women’s History Month Local Hero,” the veteran environmentalist was described as “a child of nature.” The observation is perfect. 86 years young, Elosie continues to radiate enthusiasm for her beloved Tecolote Canyon, its habitat and flora with the wonder of a child.
For a virtual trek through Tecolote Canyon, visit www.hikingsdcounty.com, a picturesque and informative blog produced by Clark and Sarah Kranz.
Sarah noted, “I was thrilled to have found such a quiet and tranquil spot in the middle of the city.”
The Women’s Museum of California at Liberty Station plans a 2017 exhibition about prominent San Diego women environmentalists. Eloise Battle belongs in the exhibit and in their hall of fame.
With pride and a sense of serenity, she sums up the past 45 years. “When I get up every morning and look out at the canyon, I smile.”