Monday, November 26, 2018

El Monte Valley Sand Mining vs Nature Preserve Controversy

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie— deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917–1963)
Illustration - Chess Play of Nature - Greenpeace of Brazil 2011

Teddy Ortiz
You could almost make a Chess Play boardgame out of this story and call it "Developer vs Nature." Such stories are all too familiar around the globe in what authorities usually label such activities as nothing more than progress. But like Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill, so there is a well known San Diego county nature photographer charging up El Capitan Mountain above Lakeside's El Monte Valley to stop an outrageous scheme which will destroy the very last piece of floodplain left along the San Diego River corridor. Billy Ortiz has rallied people behind an effort to halt an investment group's sand mining ambitions bent on completely raping the natural resources from a picturesque floodplain which many people have called the Yosemite Valley of Southern California. And they are doing so under the eco-green smokescreen cloak of later promising to create a nature preserve after they are finished. The location of this brewing controversy is east of the inland community of Lakeside, California. It's also the old story of Cain and Abel (brother against brother who should be on the same side - more on that later) and a bit of David and Goliath (rich powerful land developer vs the little people & nature). First it was proposed that this loaction was to be a golf course resort, then a nature preserve, later a possible wastewater treatment plant and now finally an industrial sand & gravel mining operation. I'll provide some links for you to follow the controversial plans at the end of this post. Indeed, this sand mining is detrimental to any and all restoration of the riverbed, but I'll let other people explain in further detail the fight going on while I'll stand on a neutral sidelines. I'm interested mainly on what can ONLY be done regarding restoration done the right way. But this will only be done with two separate future two posts. There are just way too many complex details. But here now are some brief historical points of the valley's ongoing controversies over decades. First, here is my previous post.
Santee's River Walks: Mast Park & Walker Preserve
Where the whole Sand Mining controversy began years ago
Image -  Billy Ortiz

Image - Quora
In 1997, the Helix water district leased a 480-acre property to these developers (see above photo) under the name El Capitan Golf Course LLC whose plan to build a golf course in the El Monte Valley, however the plan flopped flat on it's face in 2005. What's interesting is that some earth moving equipment did create some large holes where the golf course lakes would go, but nowhere to this day can you tell where they placed the excavated sand they removed. Were one to take a stab and guess, you'd have to say it was sold for a profit. It appears this is really what the company wanted all along, a sand mining operation with the gold course scheme providing perhaps a cover story. In 2010, the Helix water district planned to use the site build a wastewater-recycling plant there. But Helix also looked at getting into the sand-mining business. After the failure of the Golf Course scheme, there was a renaming of El Monte Golf Course LLC over to El Monte Nature Preserve LLC, with an address in Solana Beach. But this new identity cloak also has filed a proposal for the land with the county planning department for sand mining. The land belonged to the Helix Water District, which transferred the land as part of an August 2014 settlement with El Capitan Golf Course LLC — which has now become the Nature Preserve LLC. The scheme's plan suggests excavating a massive trench down through a large portion of the El Monte Valley's San Diego River course, creating a giant industrial ditch much like the patch work of old former industrial gravel pit operations you can view from western Lakeside all the way through Santee to Mission Dam. Later the plan calls for planting trees along this long giant ditch's edges, build some trails, plant some native trees and shrubs with signage and label it a successful restoration project and nature preserve. 

Image - Billy Ortiz

The photo above is looking north from the flume trail on the south side of El Monte Valley at where the damage by heavy construction equipment removed massive amounts of sand already. The two characters in the photograph at right are Bill Adams and his token eco-activist Michael Beck who provides the Business group the mere appearance of having eco-green oversight as well as a sort of expert with restoration of the riverbed after the mining operation has extracted as much sand for profit as possible. In other words after the riverbed is dredged to death below the water table line, it will appear like the rest of the San Diego River's sunken channelized riverbed (with the exception of the Mission Gorge canyon) west of Cactus Park & El Capitan High School in Lakeside all the way to Padre Dam. The theory is that if they dig down 40 to 60 feet to the water table, which exposes the water at the surface, then this could be the foundation of a channeled riverbed with riparian vegetation on both sides like the unnatural look on the west side of Lakeside. I understand the thinking in one sense. Water is needed for a viable riparian habitat to thrive. Humans over 100+ years have literally ruined this floodplain river channel which at one time was as level as the surrounding landscape. The water table in historical times was actually just a few feet under the surface. Old historical photographs reveal the river bed just a few feet lower than Lakeside itself, with only the tre lined edges to provide a location of the actual channel. The trees (Fremont Cottonwoods, California Sycamores & Willows) on both sides of the river channel were once huge old growth specimens. Such trees were once common pace and not the occcassional exception one encounters today. A person could compare them to the old riparian forests from many of Arizona's large riparian preserves today. What vegetation that does exist now are only within the excavated flood channel trenches and not nearly as huge. If attempts were made now to plant trees in the El Monte Valley as it now stands, the root systems would barely reach the water table. The natural river system as it exists today in El Monte Valley has been shut down, mainly by the El Capitan reservoir to the east. There are no seasonal flooding flows to house clean the riverbed and provide fresh new nutrients & water resources. 

Image provided by Billy "Lakeside" Ortiz
Above is a photo of the newly excavated San Diego River which has been slightly altered, deepened and straightened to allow to faster movement of any future flood wwaters. This was done in the early 1980s, not long after the 1980 floods where both San Vicinte and El Capitan Dams both overflowed their spillways. It was a time when every dam in San Diego County overflowed and washed out numerous bridges downstream.
Image from Billy "Lakeside" Ortiz

What exists today is a bulldozed slightly straightened uniform flood channel full of mainly non-native invasives like Tamarisk. Take note of the river bottom's vegetation in the photo above. The majority is invasive non-native Tamarisk, which have root systems that go far far deeper than the native cottonwoods and Sycamores. There are future posts I have in draft which will touch on this much deeper and in length. I won't spend much more on the political and legal controversy here, but I'll provide credible links to people and their sites that can be trusted. Not all people and their websites on this issue can be viewed as credible and trustworthy.
Controversy on how El Monte Valley's land should be used is not a new phenomena
Image - East County Magazine

Another controversy from the past once included a proposed industrial solar farm on the floor of this same scenic El Monte Valley which as with this present industrial sand mining complex, stirred up controversy among the surrounding Lakeside residents. One property owner named David Pressman & OCI Solar once proposed to build a 40-acre solar photovoltaic farm project with approximately 8,500 solar panels on El Monte Road.  OCI is a Korean company who has holdings in the United States. To be clear, massive hectates of land with industrial infrastructure is not a farm at all in the true definition. As with most Solar Farm schemes, they require massive amounts of raw land to fullfil the exacting solar requirements from such a technology which still has many limitations despite the public relations otherwise. Without going further, you many read about this past controversy below.
East County Magazine: "Industrial Solar Proposal in El Monte Valley Outrages Residents"
An unfortunate Industrial Sunrise Powerlink scheme which sadly did succeed
Map - San Diego Union Tribune

Image - Billy Ortiz
Another controversy was the argument for high voltage transmission lines to be routed through El Monte Valley for movement of electricity from Desert Alternative Energy Schemes which have never really produced as advertised or promised. The map above reveals the unfortunate alignment is called the Sunrise Powerlink. It's purpose is to service all the electricity which authorities hope will be generated by other alternative energy schemes down in the desert areas east of San Diego county like Ocotillo's failed Wind Facility (plagued with numerous logistics & technical problem, with the lack of wind being #1) and the plethora of awful looking industrial solar projects which have actually replaced real agricultural farms. Pictured above right is one of the sky cranes being used to lift Sunrise Powerlink electrical transmission towers into place along the north rim of El Monte Valley in Lakeside.
Basin & Range watch: "Sunrise Powerlink Controversy"
A little background history in San Diego County's Building Boom Era and the deliberate  intention of turning rural  Lakeside into an industrial salvage yard
Image - San Diego Public Library

Over a century ago Mission Valley once looked very much as El Monte Valley looks today. Completely flat, no sunken river channel. Although having more meandering characteristics it wasn't neccessarily a wild river as it had cultivated farmland on both sides with rural houses here and there. But take note above of the natural and normal meandering river channel pattern of a true floodplain. Also take note of older river channel portions known as oxbows where the river had switched direction and left these curved or comma shaped oxbow lakes. The river valley prior to European settlement would more than likely have had vast riparian forests lining it's edges and pocket woodlands here and there on both sides. The first pioneers would have later removed all those trees to make way for agriculture in the rich bottomlands which were subject to overflow over countless centuries and provided perfect dryland farming with water or at least moisture only a couple of feet deep. Of course like all flat expansive river valleys, this was indeed a true floodplain. 

Steven M Youmans‎—"c.1927 The flooding of Mission Valley"

Yup, sure enough, floodplains do indeed flood, hence the name description. And yes though historically there was a meandering river channel like we saw in the San Diego Historical Society color photo above, but they do overflow their banks during the rainy seasons and this has been going on for 10s of 1000s of years. But to the exploring humans centuries ago, floodplains were something to be tamed and fought against as opposed to being respected and worked with. After all, there was agriculture and other human commercial ventures to be explored and pursued. Take special note of this great illustration below which through simplified visuals explains at the top just what I said about the nature and function of a meandering floodplain.

Illustration - Yazoo Stram Ministries

Image - British Geographer
Now the bottom animated portion of the above illustration shows how humans have traditionally tamed the wild dangerous ancient floodplains so that industrial, agriculture or other commercial ventures like businesses or housng tracts could then move in. The strategy calls for destroying and removing all the meanders and curves of the river by straight channeling. Up in Los Angeles this has meant massive construction of concrete channeling infrastructure to tame the water flows during flooding events in the rainy seasons. In many ways flooding in SoCal is worse because rain mainly falls on asphalt, concrete and 1000s of building's roofs. Even a tiny storm can and will cause flooding. But how well has this straight channeling worked out for Mission Valley ??? Well, it still floods during heavy & even light storms as you can see in the photograph below which is well illustrated in the animated picture above.

Image: Kevin Walsh and Wimmer Yamada and Caughey

But gradually the times changed and things developed rapidly after World War II and the wildness of Mission Valley had to go. In the 1940s, the federal government begins building 13,000 “cracker box” houses in Linda Vista, the largest single defense housing project in the U.S. at the time. This type of model city bedroom districts were made up of “cracker box” houses, with almost 3,000 units still remaining today along with the original building housing the old roller rink called Skateworld. In 1954, the Federal Public Housing Administration sold the houses for private ownership, according to Linda Vista officials. But again, it was the model for other construction boom projects around San Diego like Clairemont, Allied Gardens, etc. 

Image taken from Mission Valley News
 And all that sand & gravel for asphalt & concrete had to come from somewhere and that somewhere started in Mission Valley with industrial mining operations. Not only Mission Valley, but further up into Mission Gorge, Santee at about the Walker Lakes near Edgemore hostpital and further east to Lakeside.
Image - San Diego Free Press

The city of San Diego expanded rapidly after the World War II. Many former military men didn't wish to return back home to places like Iowa and other places back east or up north where long frigid winters were common. Getting use to Southern California's mild year round pleasant climate was a major draw and this called for a construction boom. Many of the early Sand and Gravel Pits were located close to the coastal floodplains like Mission and Otay River valleys. For the moment construction began close to the city of San Diego and Mission Valley was convenient for transportation of such materials, but as time went on it became apparent there were bigger plans for Mission Valley from a commercial developer standpoint as the modern photo above reveals. Agriculture was now on the way out. When I was growing up in the 1960s however, these giant industrial mining companies were mammoths from an industrial point of view as you can see in the example below. 

Image - San Diego History Center
Sand Mining Companies in Mission Valley (1960)

Towards the end of the 1970s and through the 1980s, these industrial giant eyesores were forced out of San Diego coastal areas and found refuge inland. The City of San Diego and San Diego County had a plan of ridding itself of such eye sore operations and replacing the infrastructure with more eye candy appealing businessses that fit their tax revenue vision of being an industrial tourist holiday mecca. Hence further inland in places like El Cajon, Santee and Lakeside, these industrial giants found new homes on once large picturesque rural parcels where they could park massive amounts of construction equipment (both working & broken down) and construction material supplies in an environment which provided a lack of zoning, rules and regulations for doing so. When I lived off Pepper Drive in El Cajon, you could see the lack of any planning forethought where all manner of businesses sprang up on former farmland, residential housing, etc. The City of San Diego didn't care, after all it would be someone else's problem in east county. Today in many places Lakeside looks like one big giant salvage junkyard. Take a look at this google earth and this other private party photo below that one.

Image - Google Earth

What's happened to Lakeside is despicable, but Santee and El Cajon both have their disorganized lack of zoning rules and regulations as well. Greeenfield Ave and Prospect Ave are also glaring examples. It never use to look this way folks. 😔

North end of Moreno and Slaughterhouse Canyon (Billy Ortiz) 

It's sickening to see what once was beautiful farmland turned into an industrial apocalypse. Let's get back to the floodplain mining controversy now. Below is an awesome video and really a whole series of videos explaining stream flow dynamics. I'll post their links down below, but first watch this video put out by the "Little River Research & Design" group which illustrates exactly what happens to a riverbed floodplain when a sand and gravel mining operation moves in and does it's dirty work on the landscape. 

Here are some liks to the Little River Research & Design
Youtube: Little River Research & Design
Little River Research & Design website
Seriously folks, watch all the videos on their Youtube site, all about things that effects on river flow dynamics, even log jam simulations, etc. Below is another video highlighting that illegal and irresponsibly operated sand mining is a global problem, especially in places like India. These ecosystem destroying sand mining operations are a worldwide problem for which you may google.

Follow the Sand Mining Controversy thru these Links below - The next video will introduce you to the people who are most knowledgeable and provide a bit of historical backgraound to this area

[these are the only 3 links I recommend reading & keeping updated]

Lakeside River Park Conservancy- El Monte Valley
Links to the Industrial Energy Controversies
Desert Sun: "Why do millions of public dollars keep flowing to a private consultant in Southern California?"
Links for reading about San Diego's Mission Valley's history
San Diego Free Press: "How to Destroy Mission Valley"
San Diego Government: "Mission Valley Community Plan"
First San Diego River Improvement Project

This is the first & only post I'll really speak about the controversy. The links I provided above will update you on the day to day Lakeside squabblings going on between industrial interests vs riparian preserve hopes of the residents. My next post will be on the mechanical preparation first needed regarding the kind of foundational groundwork infrastructure that will be necessary prior to preparation to the actual restoration of both native plants and animals back into El Monte Valley.  
Stay Tuned! 😉

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