Celebrating 30 years of community
by Mia Bertleson
Eastlake: the story of the community we call home
Chula Vista is the name of our proud city and we occupy a small section of it called Eastlake. Eastlake is a fitting name as we are located in the eastern part of the city, next the Lower Otay Reservoir. Eastlake is not an official name, but more of a way to call our area. It has no official boundaries and we often use the name loosely to cover many areas in the eastern part of Chula Vista. The builders of our master-planned community gave us this name. Chula Vista means beautiful view in Spanish because of its stunning location between the San Diego bay and the coastal mountain foothills.
Archeological evidence shows that since the end of the ice age humans have lived here. When the first modern settlers came to our area, they knew that this was a special place.
The city of Chula Vista began in 1911 as a small rural village and has grown to be the second largest city in San Diego County. In the beginning, it had very little in terms of the city comforts we enjoy today. There were few stores, no sidewalks, parks, sewers or streetlights.
Our area of Eastlake had vast farms and ranches once known as the Janal and Otay ranchos. Life was good and many families grew in prosperity with our favorable climate, rolling hills and soil. In 1845 a Mexican governor granted Rancho del Rey to John Foster. It was 42 miles of grazing land known as Rancho la Nación. Otay Ranch was a working cattle ranch and Mary Birch lived there until her death in 1983.
In 1986 construction began on Eastlake. Bob Santos from the EastLake Development Company headed the creation of a self-contained ‘destination’ community for 30,000 people in 10,000 homes. It included industrial parks, shopping centers, schools, offices, and at least 20 percent of the ranch dedicated to open space.
The other communities of Rancho del Rey (1989) and Otay Ranch (1999) followed Eastlake’s model. The opening of Eastlake 1 was in 1986. It contained the 34-acre Eastlake Village Center and the 145-acre Eastlake Business Center. In 1989 the city annexed Eastlake Greens and began working on the 830-acre community that featured an eighteen-hole golf course and schools. The development of Eastlake was a huge undertaking for the city of Chula Vista. It would double the size of the current city limits.
Eastlake High School opened in 1992 and it was the first new high school to be added to the Sweetwater High School District in two decades. The school sits on 45 acres that were donated by EastLake Development Company. The City built the adjacent Chula Vista Community Park that is 15 acres. The school was originally built for 2,400 students and had a library that was also shared by the City. The performing arts hall was named after Ruth French Chapman, an elementary school teacher and high school trustee.
Many other schools were built including: Eastlake Elementary (1990), Olympic View (1995), Thurgood Marshall School (1999), Arroyo Vista Charter (1999), Eastlake Middle School (2003), Liberty Elementary (2004) and Salt Creek Elementary (2004).
Our growing neighborhoods needed churches as well. Many congregations moved their locations to the Eastlake area including one of the largest, the EastLake Community Church. It started in 1994 on Otay Lakes Road and has grown in membership.
The Border Patrol built their $14 million dollar headquarters on Lane Avenue in the 100-acre Eastlake Business Center. Their headquarters do not include detention facilities. The Eastlake Business Center also added a new post office and United Parcel Service facility.
In 1995 the U.S. Olympic Training Center-Chula Vista was opened to help athletes train year-round with our great climate. The 155-acre complex sits adjacent to the Lower Otay Reservoir. The Olympic athletes use the lake to practice rowing sports.
Eastlake’s parks and connecting trails are amazing. Montevalle, Salt Creek, Mountain Hawk and Wolf Canyon are a few of our treasured parks. No wonder we have won the best community awards many times in the San Diego Union Tribune polls.
The master plan of Eastlake also includes numerous community pools, gyms and club houses. The Woods Clubhouse looks like a five star resort. The many HOA associations plan community events around holidays like Easter and Christmas.
In 2007 the SR-125 Toll road, South Bay Expressway, opened and helped to connect Eastlake to the vast freeway system of San Diego. Also, in 2007 the nationwide home foreclosure crisis stopped the housing boom that Eastlake enjoyed.
The Otay Ranch Town Center opened in 2006. It was originally planned to have high-end stores, but with the financial crisis, the plans were changed. It has become a hub of community activities.
During our 30+ year history as we have watched our community grow, the excellent schools have been a huge source of pride.
The builders from the EastLake Development Company put a lot of thought and planning into creating a community that would stand out. They had the vision to start a non-profit foundation to support the local schools. Thus the EastLake Educational Foundation (EEF) was born with the mission to support technology and STEAM programs in our local schools.
The EastLake Educational Foundation is a bridge of support between schools and the community. As a trusted non-profit 501 (3)c, we work together as partners to provide resources that advance 21st Century learning so that all students can achieve their potential.
The EEF is able to fund the mission by hosting fundraising events, earning investment income from assets such as the JG Boswell Endowment, business and private contributions, and transfer fees on home sales. The EEF has granted close to $3,000,000 to the Eastlake schools since 1995. The operational expenses of the foundation are paid from the investment income and this allows all community donations to be passed on the schools entirely. This is very encouraging when 100% of their donations go directly to the schools and students.
Bill Ostrem, known as the father of EastLake, was interviewed in a podcast at the EEF office. Ostrem, former president and CEO of the EastLake Development Company, shared his memories of building the community of Eastlake and creating the foundation to make sure that local schools are supported. The EEF is not the only organization grateful for his vision and contributions, Ostrem was inducted into the prestigious Building Industry Association (BIA) San Diego Hall of Fame in 2019.
“The markets still had been a little tough at that time, but we were preparing for the change in the market and for the growth and build-out of Eastlake,” Ostrem explained. “We wanted to make sure that the schools were properly funded. That is the reason for establishing the EastLake Educational Foundation. We set it up so that they (the community) are always making the gifts. Good schools are always good for home values. We have seen it anywhere that we have developed. To me it is all about the kids. A good education is always a great foundation for anybody. With the resources that the public schools lack these days, all the support we can give them… is what it is all about.
“When you look at the scores of the schools… relative to the rest of the district and the county, they continue to shine. It is all about involvement. Foundation is a great thing and helps to give that nucleus, but the parent involvement is what really makes the schools work. When you look at the foundation, it is really a small foundation. And to see something of that size continue to do what it does year after year, I think it is pretty exceptional. A lot of these foundations just fade away. As soon as the leaders leave, it slowly fades away. EEF continues to have strong board members and great involvement and it just continues to grow. It says a lot about the community. We take some credit for starting it, but the credit is due to the people who have kept this whole thing going.”
Barbara Legg worked at the information center of the Eastlake Development Company and her children were attending Eastlake Elementary. She shared in a podcast at the EEF office some of her memories.
“We took a tour of Clear View Elementary in Terra Nova,” Legg said. “Clear View had a grant… and it was amazing. If we had our own foundation where the Eastlake schools would be like cream of the crop and top-notch, that would be ideal. When you have strong schools, you have strong communities. I knew it would be something that the EastLake Company would embrace.”
Legg was fortunate to have a neighbor, Linda Gilstrap, who wrote grants for a living. “I asked her if this is even doable,” Legg said. “How do you start a foundation? She told me, ‘let’s find some seed money to get it started’. So she researched grants and companies.”
Legg took the ideas back to the EastLake Development Company and they helped with all the legal aspects of forming the foundation. She had never done anything like this, but she knew that our community would greatly benefit, so she got to work on it.
“That is how the EEF foundation was born,” she explained. “We just started very small, very grassroots. The two schools were Eastlake Elementary and Eastlake High School. They were the only two schools in Eastlake. By working for the Eastlake Company I saw the huge master plan and I knew there were going to be more schools coming on board.
“The parent involvement has always been amazing at the schools. When parents are involved with their kids’ education, it just makes a huge difference. We wanted to make it technology related. But technology changes so quickly so it was important to make sure that the kids stayed above the curve with technology. Funding sometimes trickles down very slowly to the schools. So, by having our own foundation, we can control some of that.”
In an EEF podcast interview Stan Canaris and Dr. Susan Mahler shared stories of the beginnings of Olympic View elementary when it first opened but on the campus of Eastlake High School. It was the first K-12 school in the district, just for a quarter.
“I was blessed to be selected to be the principal at Olympic View Elementary school which was just getting ready to open in July 1995”, Dr. Mahler began. “I was all excited. We had a small staff because there were only about 250 students. But, there was just one problem; we didn’t have a school that was finished. We had nowhere to move in on the first day of school. I made an appointment to come over to Eastlake High School. Believe it or not, because the schools are so crowded now, he had this one whole building that was empty. We took all the classes and we moved in.”
Canaris, Eastlake High School principal, continued with the story to explain that the kids were walking in a line holding a 100 foot rope right through the middle of campus at lunch time with the music blasting and teens relaxing. “It was like somebody had an off and on switch,” he carefully explained. “The switch went off, it was perfectly quiet. And that was because an incredible thing happened. High school kids looked at those kids and they said I remember when I was down there and it was a moving experience. The elementary school kids looked up to the high school kids and they had them as an idol. And they looked up to them because that is where they were going to be some day.”
Dr. Mahler continued, “The little kids were so in awe of the big kids and they were afraid to misbehave. And the big kids knew they were the role models. They invited us to their pep assembly. All the classes had above where they were sitting the date that they would be graduating. The high schoolers made posters for the elementary kids for when they would be graduating and that was behind where we sat.”
They both agreed that EEF is an important part of our community. “It was an absolute partnership between the foundation and the schools,” Dr. Mahler reflected. “Every single day Natasha Martinez would come flying on to my campus… with something in her arms for the student or an activity we were going to do together. We want to see that partnership not just continue, but even get stronger and stronger. What makes a strong school is community involvement. The Eastlake community is so fortunate to have an Eastlake Educational Foundation. I have friends who teach in other schools and in other districts who are jealous and resent that we have a foundation.”
We are fortunate to have filmed the podcast interview before Dr. Mahler passed away in October 2022. She is very missed in our community.
Canaris was involved with the opening of Eastlake High School in 1992 and served as vice principal before becoming the principal in 1995. Eastlake High School named its athletic stadium Stan Canaris Stadium to honor his many contributions. He worked for the district for 37. 5 years. “It is a great privilege to have the stadium named after me,” he said.
Canaris explained that he and his wife have lived in Eastlake for over 20 years and they have seen it grow during this time. “We are very proud of this community and being proud of the community is sharing the successes of Eastlake High School,” he said. “We have good students and we want to keep that tradition going.
“The most successful part of being a principal… is getting the kids involved with the school. I had a very unique experience and that was opening the school with 500 kids. That’s not a whole lot of students. So you have 500 kids who have to take up all those spaces. Whether … it is athletics, chess club, the band, the choir, whatever it is. So it forced kids to have an opportunity to get involved in something that maybe they hadn’t thought of before. That value paid off in the long run, because now you have kids who have a buy in to the school. That is vital. Kids feel like the school is theirs because they contributed to it. The kids are learning to give back. Giving back to the Eastlake High School through the community is something that we all should be doing and that makes it successful.”
Camille Bruno is a long-time Realtor in Eastlake and an EEF supporter and she has seen it grown from the very beginning. “I have lived in Eastlake since 1987,” She said. “I have owned four different homes. I had two homes in the Shores, one in the Greens and we moved to the Woods in 2003. We were the 7th family to move to the Woods and have been here 20 years now in this house. We still own our first Eastlake house we purchased in 1987, I do believe we are the one of the few families in the area that has owned and lived in all three associations: Eastlake I, Eastlake II and Eastlake III.” Bruno loves living here and wouldn’t call any other place home.
This story was compiled by Mia Bertelsen. She is a community member, teacher, mother, writer and a supporter of EEF. In the article there are two ways to spell Eastlake (EastLake). When the community was first built many groups used EastLake. Over time, the capital L was dropped by some.
The sources used were:
Schoenherr, Steven, 2011, 1911-2011, Chula Vista Centennial, A Century of People and Progress, Chula Vista, Walsworth Print Group
Eastlake Educational Foundation podcasts: vimeo.com/eefkids