Busy Spring: Del Mar Mesa Development 1 and Mission Trails Revamp

By Frank Landis, Chairperson Conservation Committee

Wow, what a busy winter. As I write this, I'm checking the news periodically to see whether the Oroville Dam fails, or whether the engineers keep the Sacramento Valley from trying to turn back into the "Inland Sea" it was before the 1920s. This is hopefully irrelevant, but I have my doubts, because I'm reading the EIR for Merge 56, the first development slated for the eastern edge of Del Mar Mesa. The problem isn't particularly a CNPS concern. Their design, as I feared, has Deer Creek routed through a basin and storm drain through a pile of fill, and because the channel at that point makes a "Z," the culvert turns at a sharp angle from the upstream and downstream flows. Atop that fill is the southward extension of Camino Del Sur. I've protested this design for years, because most of the watershed above Deer Creek is paved over by Rancho Peñasquitos. As a result, we don't really know how high that creek can flood. While we can make some guesses based on 100 year floods and so forth, I keep wondering how it will handle a tropical storm or hurricane, or even a big atmospheric river getting weepy. Presumably their system will clog and the water will start chewing through the fill holding up Camino Del Sur. If the road/dam breaches, all the crap goes down canyon, chewing up those Nuttall's scrub oaks I've been trying to protect for years. Nothing big like Oroville, but as with the Oroville Dam's problems, which were predicted by environmental groups in 2005 (and ignored), it's a fairly predictable disaster.

Why not a bridge? Well, back in the 1960s when this project was originally put on the books, Deer Creek was a seasonal creek. It turned perennial around 2005 and stayed that way until 2016, when the drought finally convinced people to fix their upstream leaks and it became a bit more intermittent. Since it was a seasonal drainage back in the 1960s, it was thought appropriate to pile the dirt over a culvert and build a road on it. Then the City budgeted for that fill. Now that budget line is a portion of what's available to build the road, and there's no way they can afford a bridge. They may well spend several bridges-worth on repairs in coming decades, but that's not considered a prudent investment now.

Now for the CNPS issues: that fill is atop a willow stand, in a wetland, and the fill from the road will extend onto MHPA/MSCP/parkland. And it will wipe out some Nuttall's scrub oaks (Quercus nuttallii), and isolate some vernal pools, and all the usual stuff. That's the problem: with so many developments, the destruction of native plants and rare vegetation is "usual stuff" now. 

My questions, as a local resident, is whether we need the >400,000 square feet of office space, the movie theater, another grocery store (ours was closed for a year and no one complained. Now we get two?). I know we need more housing, but I wonder whether it will turn out to be another half-empty shopping center, surrounded by commuters going elsewhere, with disaffected boys in their teen and midlife crisis instars running wild through the Del Mar Mesa Preserve. This may sound morbid, but it's what we've got now.

What can you do? Quite a bit, actually. When I'm commenting for CNPSSD, I can only talk about impacts to plants and caused by greenhouse gases. YOU can write a letter or talk to city councilmembers about traffic, hydrology (they're saying no impacts, despite burying a wetland and putting a creek in a storm drain), and whether it makes sense to keep plopping down office space a half million square feet at a time, especially off SR-56, which won't be widened for another 20 years or so. Kind of makes a mockery of the City's Climate Action Plan, does it not? As private citizens, you're not constrained in what you can say the way I am. If you do want to get involved, email conservation@cnpssd.org for more ideas.

And that's just the half of it.

Another half (probably one of about four) is the Mission Trails Regional Park Master Plan Update (MPU. Sorry if I caused your acronymitis to flare). This has been in process for some time. It's...odd, and not in a good way.

One odd thing is that the wildlife agencies didn't like the early draft, and insisted that the City include a "Reduced- Project Alternative," explicitly to get the City to scale back the number of proposed trails in East Elliott. I'm still looking for a map of the alternative, but it appears that the problem is that the City wants to build two new mountain bike trails on the north and south side of Sycamore Canyon Landfill, thereby connecting up two separate trail loops. To quote the Project EIR (PEIR, p.417, 10-7), "The Wildlife Agencies requested the removal of these trail components to protect existing intact habitat, decrease the potential for the incursion of exotics [sic] species, and avoid disruption of wildlife movement, restriction of wildlife refuge areas, and negative effects to wildlife composition." Sounds like an eminently practical goal. Why is the City so resentful about leaving a bit more of Sycamore Canyon to the wildlife? 

And why does this matter to CNPSSD? There are quite a few sensitive plants in East Elliott, including the endangered willowy monardella (Monardella viminea). Indeed, the MPU PEIR talks about potential impacts (literal, I'm afraid) to the willowy monardella and six other rare species as a result of building new stuff, although it promises to attempt to mitigate by, um, regular stuff that doesn't normally work all that well (I'm paraphrasing). 

Anybody want to have a little conversation with their councilmembers about why we need parks to protect rare plants and animals, not just to cater to the trail riders? Good, I'm glad you're volunteering, because the reason the mountain bikers get their trails and we lose our plants is that they speak up and we stay silent. Too many assume, for some reason, that once something is in a park,  it's safe in perpetuity. 

Here's the truth: SANDAG overpromised how much money it could deliver through its tax hikes, so there's not enough funding right now (perhaps ever) to pay for all the land management that the MSCP promised in places like Mission Trails. If you thought your taxes paid for enough rangers to keep the plants safe, so that all you had to do was grow a native plant garden and take the occasional hike, I'm sorry, it turns out that we were all misinformed. The system is underfunded. We're going to all have to pitch in, volunteer, speak up, and do more, if we want our wild places and species to continue to exist in this changing world. 

Add to this the simple fact that we don't turn up at public meetings, and all too often, when we do turn up, we don't speak. We depend on others to do the work for us, and our silence is taken as consent to build. We'll lose everything we value if we continue to tend our own gardens and stay silent in public. 

Mission Trails is an important park for us. If you walk there, especially if you care about its native plants, you NEED to tell your council members and park staff that you care about the plants, and that you're perfectly okay walking or biking further if that means that the plants (and the animals) keep a bit of room to live in an increasingly crowded city. You don't have to be nasty about it—indeed, you should be polite and take the time to get to know them and their staff—but you do need to make your views, our presence, known. Even if you're not a San Diego resident, make your voice heard. To make it a bit easier, here is contact information: 

District 1: Councilmember Barbara Bry, (619) 236-6611, barbarabry@sandiego.gov

District 2: Councilmember Lorie Zapf, (619) 236-6622, loriezapf@sandiego.gov

District 3: Councilmember Chris Ward, (619) 236-6622, christopherward@sandiego.gov 

District 4: Council President Myrtle Cole, (619) 236-6622, myrtlecole@sandiego.gov

District 5: Council President Pro Tem Mark Kersey, (619) 236-6622, markkersey@sandiego.gov

District 6: Councilmember Chris Cate, (619) 236-6622, chriscate@sandiego.gov

District 7: Councilmember Scott Sherman, (619) 236-6622, scottsherman@sandiego.gov (the park is in his district)

District 8: Councilmember David Alvarez, (619) 236-6622, davidalvarez@sandiego.gov

District 9: Councilmember Georgette Gómez, (619) 236-6622, georgettegomez@sandiego.gov 

If you want help on commenting on this or any other EIR, contact me at conservation@cnpssd.org .

And finally, here are some pictures of the plants. Aren't they worth preserving? You need to tell others this.