Chula Vista’s Living Coast Discovery Center will likely close its doors permanently at the end of the month if it doesn’t bridge a budget gap. NBC7 Investigates has learned that SDG&E promised $2 million in funding to the aquarium on Chula Vista’s bayfront but now, the company will no longer be donating the money. NBC 7's Mari Payton reports.
Facing a $200,000 budget shortfall, Chula Vista's Living Coast Discovery Center is set to shutter its doors on Oct. 28 and close permanently in December.
First opened in 1987, the nonprofit zoo and aquarium sits on San Diego Bay in the South County city of Chula Vista. The educational facility provides tours, summer camps, and it houses sharks, jellyfish, stingrays and bald eagles, among other animals.
San Diego Gas & Electric originally promised a $2 million environmental endowment to the facility, along with under-grounding transmission lines along the south side of the bay front as part of the proposed relocation of the South Bay Substation.
In August, the California Public Utilities Commission tentatively approved a version of SDG&E's plan that did not include the endowment or the additional under-grounding for the bay front.
Ben Vallejos, the chief operating officer for the Living Coast, said the center has launched a variety of fee-based programs in recent years to balance its budget. The center, however, has faced a systemic budget gap in its $1 million annual operating costs.
"Though we have started to make headway with the new educational programming and collaborative research, it would be fiscally irresponsible for us to continue operations without knowing when or if we will see any financial relief," Vallejos said.
The facility, once run by the city, nearly closed in 2009 because of deep budget cuts. It transitioned to a nonprofit with heavy support from the Unified Port of San Diego, SDG&E and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The city appointed a 19-member board of directors to help run the aquarium.
"We have held out as long as possible, but the reality is that we could no longer operate without major new sources of community support and funding," Vallejos said.
NBC 7 reached out to SDG&E Tuesday and a spokesperson replied with the following statement:
"SDG&E has a long history of support for the Living Coast Discovery Center. Since 2009, SDG&E has made $275,000 in charitable contributions to the organization, which has been a staple of environmental education to thousands of kids and their families in the communities of the South Bay.
As part of the South Bay Substation Relocation Project regulatory process, SDG&E proposed the Bayfront Enhancement Alternative, which included a $2 million fund to protect and enhance the coastal resources in the South Bay. The CPUC declined this proposal, having determined that the fund was not necessary to mitigate project impacts that it found not to be significant."