The Harbaugh Foundation
Posted on March 27, 2020
There is a piece of land at the very northern end of Solana Beach — 3.4 acres situated between the 101 and the rail line — that undoubtedly offers one of the finest ocean views anywhere in the world. It is so good, people have been fighting over it for more than 30 years. Plans to build a hotel on the spot led to the incorporation of Solana Beach as a distinct municipality. It’s taken more than three decades, but that fight is finally over for good. This past February 22, during a spectacular sunset ceremony made even more dramatic by the remnants of a downpour earlier in the day, the land officially opened as Harbaugh Seaside Trails, and that view will forever be preserved for all who visit.
“It’s a great moment,” says Joseph Balla, trustee and director of the George & Betty Harbaugh Charitable Foundation, which helped make the long fought-for dream a reality with a $1.15 million grant.
Balla was one of four ribbon cutters, along with Solana Beach Mayor Jewel Edson, and Doug Gibson and Doug Gillingham, executive director and immediate past president of the Nature Collective, the award-winning San Diego nonprofit that will serve as steward of the land, as it already does for San Elijo Lagoon as a whole.
“That’s what we look to do, partner with established groups where our participation can really make a difference,” says Balla of the foundation established by the estate of native San Diegan George Harbaugh upon his death in 2012.
Born in 1932 at Mercy Hospital, Harbaugh was a graduate of San Diego High and San Diego State, and an Air Force veteran who flew B-47s. He met his wife Betty Lou while stationed in Texas. The two shared many interests including a love of cooking, trapshooting, and the outdoors, and were married for more than 50 years when Betty passed away in 2008.
“George loved to tell stories about old San Diego,” Balla says, “including hunting with his father in the area that has since become Clairemont.”
Following his time in the service, George returned to San Diego with his new wife and began building a fortune in commercial real estate. That’s how he met Balla, who, prior to taking charge of the foundation, worked in commercial real estate as well. “We met in the ’80s. At first, he was a client. Later, we became friends and then good friends,” explains Balla, who did not learn of his appointment as trustee and director of the new foundation until after Harbaugh’s death. Since then, Balla has worked hard to carry out the foundation’s mission of purpose-driven philanthropy, impactful giving, and the thoughtful advancement of human achievement.
In addition to Seaside Trails in Solana Beach, the foundation is involved with the revamping of the Carpentier Parkway in Cardiff and, just as George and Betty did during their lifetimes, Balla is always looking to support active-duty military and veterans. For the past several years, the foundation has sponsored the Patriot’s Outpost at the Farmers Insurance Open for service members and their families, and one of the foundation’s most ambitious endeavors is Project Healing Waters, which takes disabled veterans to fish on a bend of the Big Hole River in Montana. Among his many talents, George was an experienced fly fisherman, and the foundation is working to create permanent facilities at the ranch site. projecthealingwaters.org Bill Abrams
Photography by Jennifer Nelson