By Karen Billing
Twenty-four years and nine months ago, the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority was established to preserve and restore a natural open space park in the river valley.
The agreement was given a 25-year time limit set to expire in June. The expiration date was to allow the six member agencies to pause and review whether they want the river park to continue and whether they had been successful in what they set out to accomplish.
The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board voted Feb. 27 to send a letter of support for the JPA and for the city of San Diego to renew its commitment to the park.
The city is the last of the six JPA members to approve the agreement. The other members, the county of San Diego and the cities Del Mar, Escondido, Poway and Solana Beach have already signed on to continue to plan, design and operate the river park.
“There will be no more river park unless we continue with a new agreement,” said Dick Bobertz, San Dieguito River Park executive director. “If the JPA does not move forward the land will be divided among the agencies, which means each could do whatever they wanted and we wouldn’t have a contiguous river park.”
It is not certain when the agreement will come before San Diego City Council as it is currently under legal review in the city attorney’s office as well as other departmental review. It will also be dependent on new Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s administration.
Taking the time to renew the agreement involves reflecting on whether the river park has been successful and in Bobertz’s view, they have. The six member agencies have put in more than $10 million over the last 25 years, matched by $164 million received in state and federal grants and contributions. Not a bad return, Bobertz said, but the numbers only say so much.
“The real story is out there on the ground,” Bobertz said.
The park stretches from Volcan Mountain just north of Julian to the Del Mar coast, a 55-mile corridor that encompasses the whole of the San Dieguito River Valley. It includes Lake Hodges and its iconic bridge, the restored Sikes Adobe in Escondido and the San Dieguito lagoon restoration with an outdoor classroom coming soon off Via de la Valle. All these unique features of the park can be seen along the planned Coast to Crest Trail, which, once complete, will link the mountains to the coast of Del Mar.
Recently Bobertz completed a historic 70-mile hike of the proposed Coast to Crest Trail with San Dieguito River Park Board Chair Jim Cunningham. More than 45 miles of the planned 70-mile trail are now open to the public.
Bobertz said all of these river park features showcase their success at accomplishing the intent of their agreement.
CV planning board member Anne Harvey said San Diego has the Multi-Habitat Protection Area (MHPA) that it developed to protect lands for various reasons, but the city has not done a good job of managing those lands.
“Of the city lands that are managed by the JPA, they’re doing us an immense favor,” Harvey said. “We’re really getting a very valuable service from the river park…they’ve really picked up the slack.