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Nature center sinking Robert Moreno | Sat, Oct 05 2013 12:00 PM

The Living Coast Discovery Center is on the verge of closing its doors if it cannot find money to keep the center running.

Ben Vallejos, chief operating officer, said a lack of finances is to blame for the potential closure of the Discovery Center.

The center is facing a $200,000 deficit for the next 12 months.

The facility will close to the public Oct. 28 in preparation for a permanent closing on Dec. 15.

However, all hope is not lost.

Vallejos said he is actively seeking donors to foot the $200,000 bill.

“Little donations are great but we need our local players to realize that this is a vital component to the community,” Vallejos said.

The Living Coast received an anonymous $25,000 donation earlier this week, Vallejos said.

He said the money would be spent on providing care for the animals, and to rehire a director of development to lead fundraising efforts.

The wildlife and refuge center survived the threat of closure once before.

In 2008 the city had initially scheduled the then Nature Center to close  in June 2009. Instead the center transitioned into an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, allowing it to remain open for an extra four years.

“I don’t look at it as the center shutting down, the city was going to shut it down four years ago but the community kept it running for an additional four years,” he said.

Before it broke off from the city, Chula Vista would fund more than $1 million to the center annually.

Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox said if the center closes down, she would like to see The Living Coast Discovery Center make a return when the situation presents itself.

“My hope is sometime in the future we can reopen the center in hopes that it will be able to continue educating generations about the importance of wildlife and refuge.”

Vallejos said to cut costs he had to let go more than 40 percent of his workforce in the past six months.

About 11 full-time equivalent employees will be left without a job if the center shuts down.

“If we don’t achieve our goal of  $200,000 by Oct. 28, many of our employees will be laid off the next day,” Vallejos said.

In 2011, Vallejos made $74,950. Executive Director Brian Joseph made $121,500.

Vallejos said his staff  has been operating at a 10 percent pay decrease and 10 percent furlough in work hours since October 2012. He added that management took a 20 percent pay cut and 20 percent furlough for the same period.

Vallejos said Joseph left the organization at the end of July and donated a portion of his salary to Living Coast Discovery Center.

Fifty-one percent of the general operating budget, Vallejos said, was applied to staff and management salaries and 20 percent was for animal keeper staff.

Cox said she feels for the employees.

“My heart goes out to the employees who will no longer have jobs and the animals who will be relocated,” Cox said.

Vallejos said the more than 300 species of animals will be relocated to zoos and aquariums; he said the animals will not be released back into the wild.

The Living Coast Discovery Center, formerly known as the Chula Vista Nature Center, has been a mainstay in the city of Chula Vista for 26 years.

To donate visit www.thelivingcoast.org.

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