While hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians have been forced out of the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, it appears that criminals have moved in.
Concerned citizen Mike Maio reported Thursdsay night to the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve Citizen's Advisory Committee that an illegal marijuana farm is being created in the canyon's tunnels.
Maio, who has permission from a private homeowner to enter the land, said a gasoline-powered pump has been dug into the ground to irrigate the plants and irrigation lines now tangle through scrub oak.
Maio estimated that the farm could hold about 400 plants at a value of about $640,000.
"If the law-abiding public has been denied access to this area, then why is there still a virtual vacuum of any supervision going on in the area?" Maio asked.
CAC chair Marvin Gerst echoed the statements of San Diego Police Department spokesperson Monica Munoz that it is not yet known whether this farm exists on private or city-owned land within the preserve.
Munoz said the police department's next steps depend on a lot of factors.
If the police department can see the marijuana plants, "It's not something that we'd just let continue," Munoz said.
The farming system seems to have cropped up since May, when the mountain bike association hosted a cleanup that hauled eight tons of trash out of the canyon. Maio said that they have been told the area has been the site of intensive environmental studies but somehow this development was missed.
"If it weren't for the watchful eyes of the people this fraud would have gone un-noticed," Maio said.
Maio said that the illegal farm's irrigation pump is intended to be operated without a person present and so much of a spark could light up the canyon, threatening homes and businesses.
Several CAC members were disturbed to hear the news of the pot plants.
"I am disappointed to hear that in the name of preservation there has been much greater destruction," said CAC member Guy Ravad.
Maio said with the trails closed off to "responsible" access and no money for increased patrol of the area, the problem could very well grow to be worse. He said the only sensible course is a broader trail plan with a grass roots patrol effort by users.
"Arguments against more public access are not in the best interest of the preserve," Maio said.
Find more on this developing story and the progress of the Del Mar Mesa Preserve's trail plan in Sept. 25 edition of the Carmel Valley Leader.