County Supervisors Vote to Clean Up El Monte River Valley Preserve

El Monte River Valley in Lakeside
County News Center

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday voted unanimously to set aside $6.44 million to preserve open space, protect habitat and ensure proper cleanup of the property in the El Monte River Valley it purchased from the Helix Water District last month.

Last month the board unanimously voted to spend $3.2 million to purchase the 98-acre parcel of land in Lakeside for open space and recreation purposes.

"This cleanup project is a central part of my vision to create seamless connections to the San Diego River,'' said Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher. "By approving this project we will preserve the land for species that inhabit this part of our county, enabling them to flourish in their natural surroundings and provide an improved outdoor experience for our community to enjoy. Making this investment will pay dividends for our environment and
the health and wellbeing of San Diegans."

The parcel is in the El Monte Valley near Lake Jennings and a proposed sand mining project.

The San Diego River Conservancy Board previously signed off on the county's acquisition of the parcel, located south of Willow Road and adjacent to Cactus County Park. Three existing leases will be transferred to the county, with the money they generate paying for park operations.

The property was originally identified for purchase because it would benefit the community of Lakeside by providing opportunities for future trail connections, development of future recreational facilities and retention of existing equestrian and youth sports field uses. The main channel of the San Diego River crosses the property, and onsite habitat includes coastal sage scrub, riparian scrub, riparian forest, as well as disturbed and developed areas.

"I'm grateful to Chair Fletcher's leadership in working with me to bring this forward and I am hopeful that my colleagues will commit to working with me as well for the immediate restoration of this East County community treasure," Supervisor Joel Anderson said. "Once completed, I look forward to inviting them to hike with me and see for themselves its pristine natural beauty."

The $6.44 million the Board of Supervisors agreed to use to restore the property Wednesday would spend:

  • $2,641,000 to improve and expand the existing Little League ballfield, including rehabilitating the existing field and adding new accessible pathways, restrooms and parking improvements, replacing the existing concession building and restrooms, irrigation and amenities like bleachers and tables.
  • $800,000 on trails, including design, environmental work and trail construction.
  • $3 million to restore habitat, including removing invasive species like tamarisk, pepper and eucalyptus trees, and planting and seeding with native vegetation that would include a five-year maintenance and monitoring plan.

In its current state, the parcel includes homeless encampments, invasive vegetative such as tamarisk trees and a ballpark in poor condition.

According to a county staff report, Helix would only sell the parcel in an "as-is'' condition. Unless improvements are made, the land cannot be part of the Multiple Species Conservation Plan.

Anderson was originally opposed to the purchase, which is in his district, saying the land wasn't worth the price. He said the county is spending up to $30,000 per acre on the project, and when all improvement costs are added up, the price tag is $9 million.

According to Anderson's office, the board's vote will have no impact on the proposed sand mining plant, which is undergoing environmental and community review.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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