Local residents react to stronger enforcement of Del Mar Mesa Preserve trails use

Del Mar Mesa Preserve
Del Mar Mesa Preserve

By Joe Tash

A cat-and-mouse game has unfolded in recent months between mountain bikers, joggers and hikers who enjoy using trails in the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, and state wardens who are handing out trespassing warnings and tickets.

Much of the 866-acre preserve has been posted off-limits for the past five years; but over the past couple of months, a $104,000 allocation from the San Diego Association of Governments has provided overtime pay to California Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens to patrol the mesa and other “hot spots” around the county, ticketing violators of habitat protection laws.  In at least one case, a mountain bike belonging to a repeat violator was confiscated.

The preserve — south of State Route 56 and west of Camino Del Sur — was intended by city officials to serve as an oasis for rare and endangered plants and animals amid the encroachment of surrounding development.  Trail users say they also want to protect the preserve’s biological resources, but the trails have been in use for decades, and don’t cause undue harm to the environment.

For now, the vast majority of the preserve remains off-limits to humans, with the exception of about a mile of utility access road maintained by San Diego Gas & Electric Co.  Signs and fencing delineate the unauthorized areas.  A long-awaited habitat management plan that includes a trails element would open up some seven miles’ worth of additional trails once it is adopted by the San Diego City Council.

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Andrew Kubik, a mountain biker and local attorney who has closely followed the trails issue, took issue with the recent “hard line” enforcement approach, and questioned why it has taken the city so long to approve the trails plan.

In spite of tight government budgets, “Somehow they’re finding resources to criminalize recreation by local residents,” he said.

On a recent Saturday morning, bike riders and hikers said more education about which sensitive areas to avoid — and not the issuance of tickets — is the best way to protect the preserve.

“I don’t think that’s the way to achieve their goal,” said mountain biker Juan Ospina of Banker’s Hill.

“I think it’s stupid,” said Greg Price of Mira Mesa, who was walking his two dogs on the SDGE access road, of the stepped-up enforcement. “Just walking along the trail is not going to disturb the animals.  They’re existing trails, an existing resource, why not use it?”

Erik Basil, an attorney and founding member of the Multi-Use Trails Coalition, was even more blunt in his assessment.

Those targeted with citations aren’t building fires or illegally dumping on the land, but, “only people trying to enjoy one of the last places the city hasn’t allowed to be bulldozed,” Basil said.  “It’s shooting fish in a barrel.  All the criminals they get to chase down are people wearing Spandex.”

“The law-abiding public are prevented from accessing our public lands due to the inaction of the city and the brutal tactics of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife,” Basil said.

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