BY JAMES R. RIFFEL
City News Service
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors will continue to protect open space despite difficult economic times, board chairwoman Pam Slater-Price said Wednesdsay night in her "State of the County'' address.
Slater-Price said her goals this year include establishing a nature center in San Dieguito River Park in Del Mar and preserving 22,000-acre Rancho Guejito, the last undeveloped Mexican land grant in California.
"In my view, open space is the park infrastructure of San Diego County," Price said in her speech in a theater at the Sorrento Valley headquarters of Qualcomm. "I will always strive to preserve and protect (open space)."
San Diego County has been acquiring pieces of land over many years for the 55-mile-long river park, which will eventually extend from Volcan Mountain near Julian to the Pacific Ocean.
The owner of the Rancho Guejito property has floated a preliminary proposal to set aside 16,000 of its acres for open space, while developing housing on the remainder. The land, handed over by the Mexican government in 1845, is located northeast of Escondido.
Open space is "what separates us from Los Angeles," said Slater-Price, the board's most vocal champion of environmental issues.
Slater-Price also touched on the difficult economy during her 28-minute speech.
Warnings of budget challenges again this year "might be an understatement," Slater-Price said.
County coffers have suffered from lowered funding from the state government, and a poor economy overall that has resulted in severe declines in tax revenues.
Slater-Price said 45,000 San Diego County residents joined the unemployment rolls last year, and the many owners who had their properties reassessed had their land devalued by an average of about $100,000. The resulting diminished economic activity and property tax value both mean less income for county government.
Everyone will have to be prepared for a "tight, no-frills" budget, Slater-Price said.
Slater-Price said it was her belief that the public demands a balanced budget, and prefers honesty over spending non-existent money for more programs.
Slater-Price said state officials didn't share that philosophy and face continual budget deficits.
"I will not allow our county government to lie beside the state on the gurney," Slater-Price said.