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Chula Vista Nature Landmark In Danger Of Closing Its Doors

October 15, 2013 1:12 p.m.

Sherry Lankston, Guest Experience Manager, Living Coast Discovery Center.

Related Story: Chula Vista Nature Landmark In Danger Of Closing Its Doors

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

FUDGE: A 28-year-old south bay nature landmark is in danger of closing its doors. Financial pressures may force the living coast discovery center to shut down. It's an aquarium, an exhibition space, it's a learning center located in the unique coastal environment of the south bay wetlands. The center has educated several generations and hosted countless field trips on the region's environmental diversity. Joining me to give the latest is Sherry Langston, the guest experience manager for the living coast discovery center. And thank you very much for being here.

LANGSTON: Thank you so much.

FUDGE: Well, why is the living coast discovery center in such a desperate financial strait?

LANGSTON: Well, being a nonprofit, you kind of walk that fine line on a daily basis. We have had a lot of different programming developments over the last four years to meet that financial gap that we've -- oh, I'm sorry. When we transitioned over from a city-funded organization, you went from being a publicly funded organization to having to make your own way and develop your own funding sources, ranging from memberships and foundational grants and getting a donor base. So a lot of the organizations have had decades to do this. And we took it over back in 2009 as a nonprofit to keep the doors open. And that's where we have had to meet that funding gap. And we've been pushing along and doing the best we can. But at this point in time, we really need to come up with that additional funding to make the ends meet.

FUDGE: I said it used to be called the Chula Vista nature center. And I suppose was that a time when you were actually part of the city of Chula Vista?

LANGSTON: Yeah, originally it was owned by the city of Chula Vista and publicly funded by the city of Chula Vista. And in 2009, it was a hard time for everyone, and the city was having to make some tough decisions and we were going to have to close the doors. So it was taken over by us. Now the living coast discovery center is it a nonprofit. And that's where I was talking about where we really have to build our own foundational base for funding.

FUDGE: It's my understanding that you have a deficit going over the next 12 months of $200,000.

LANGSTON: That's correct.

FUDGE: And how much money do you need?

LANGSTON: We've got a lot of different things on the table for us. The $200,000 is what we're needing to guarantee that we can make it for at least another 12 months. In the 12 months, we have significant funding opportunities for us, specifically in grants. About $750,000 worth of outstanding grants, and we're waiting for those to come in. It takes three, six, 12 months or longer for a grant funding process to go forward. So we have additional funding, some additional research, and all these grants that are just out there waiting to be funded.

FUDGE: Okay, and do the grants make up the $200,000? Or do you need additional donations?

LANGSTON: No, the $200,000 will assure that we can actually sustain it until the additional grant funding comes through. Ben is our chief executive director, and he's a great guy.

FUDGE: Well, do you have any good news today?

LANGSTON: We do!

FUDGE: Have any donors responded?

LANGSTON: Yeah, so the community has really stepped up, and we're very fortunate to be in such a caring place. The community has stepped up and said this is something that we value and find important for the future of our children and education. And last week, we had about $53,000 that was raised. SDG&E came up and stepped through with a grant, which was phenomenal. And through other community partnerships, we've been able to raise upwards of $53,000. Today we're in the process of -- we have had a lot of people step forward with some contingent large grants and funds from private and unanimous donors. Foundations here in San Diego and abroad. So now these fundings are contingent upon if bee can actually make that $200,000 mark by the end of the month. But we're right around $160.

FUDGE: I mentioned the fact that the center has been open for 28 years.

LANGSTON: We're located right off the I-5. And we're located on a national wildlife refuge of the San Diego bank. And it's a really amazing unique location. It's one of the few places where you can actually and go and see these animals in their native habitats right there on site. We focus mainly on native animals here in San Diego. So we have the Pacific rim sea turtles, the first thing you see. And we go all wait through with a lot of different species of fishes and sharks and rays. But we also have a large collection of shore birds and birds of prey.

FUDGE: And one of your colleagues actually brought an owl along! It was in the studio for a bit.

LANGSTON: Can't see it on the radio! But you should just come down and say hi.

FUDGE: I think our television program will show the owl. Now, this isn't the first time the center has faced closure. What has happened in the past and how did the center stay open?

LANGSTON: Back in 2009 when it was transitioning over from a public -- the city of Chula Vista was going to have to close it down. We needed additional funding to turn into a nonprofit. And the community was able to stand up and really support us in that. And that was a wonderful thing. We have a really good plan going forward. We spent quite a bit of time over the last summer doing a strategic analysis of the center, the strengths, the weaknesses, the opportunities and threats that we face. Now we have a really great plan moving forward.

FUDGE: And that question of sustainability is a big one. You have to look at the future as well.

LANGSTON: Absolutely. And that's why there's that $200,000 mark. We've don't want to keep going day to day to day. We really have to look at our responsibilities as a respectful organization in the community and say what do we need to actually make some progress and become sustainable in the future? What are the steps that we have to take to get there? And that $200,000 will ensure that we can keep our doors open to the public and make progress toward our sustainable future.

FUDGE: I've been there a couple of times, with my kids. The last time I was there, I remember seeing an exhibition of sculpture made from trash that was gathered along the California coast. And some of the sculptures were very clever. Is that the kind of thing you often bring?

LANGSTON: That was the washed ashore exhibit that we had. It actually came down from Washington. And those are the types of messages that we really get across. We want people to come in and experience, make the connections with the animals in our backyard, and recognize them, and we want to be good stewards of the earth. It really was a wake-up call for a lot of people and girl scouts and kids to see what trash is going into our ocean. And it was a clever way to project that we had a seal made of lids. We named her Lydia.

[ LAUGHTER ]

LANGSTON: But it really brought that home to a lot of people. And we did a lot more beach cleanups and had a lot more interaction with individuals that wanted to get out there and make a difference in the world.

FUDGE: How many people visit the center every year?

LANGSTON: About 70,000 plus every year.

FUDGE: And with the minute or so we have remaining, are you an optimist?

LANGSTON: Absolutely.

FUDGE: Do you think you'll hit the mark?

LANGSTON: It's such a special place, you can't not hope. It's an amazing place. Just come down and visit us. You'll be hooked. The moment you walk off that shuttle, you really understand what we're all about and what we're out there for. You can't not be an optimist when you walk through the doors.


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