By Barbara Zaragoza / Part Two of Four
The largest reserve for open space in the South Bay will certainly become a vast area located in Otay Ranch. In Part 2 of my interview with San Diego County Board Supervisor, Greg Cox, he explains that the County hopes over 9,000 acres will be dedicated to open spaces in Chula Vista.
In particular, the Otay Valley Regional Park will eventually connect to the Otay Lakes County Park, which is located right next to the Olympic Training Center. That means residents and visitors will be able to hike or ride from the Bayshore Bikeway all the way to the Otay reservoir and dam. A vast stretch of open space for outdoor activities, this is particularly important to residents who are experiencing unprecedented residential expansion.
Supervisor Cox explains, “It’s one of the largest planned communities in California, if not the country.”
The Millenia Project
Suburban expansion in eastern Chula Vista continues and, most importantly, City Councilmembers keep talking about a University coming to Otay Ranch. Meanwhile, a multi-billion-dollar Millenia project is already underway in the adjacent land. The Union Tribune described the project by saying: “This 210-acre community will be equivalent to about 80 city blocks. The ultimate plan is for Millenia to include 3,000 multi-family residences; two million square feet of Class A office space on 30 acres; 1.5 million square feet of retail, hospitality, civic and mixed-use projects; six themed urban parks; and a variety of tree-lined promenades, casual gathering places, bikeways and plazas. Population is projected to reach 8,500 in about 20 years.”
With that kind of growth, having a plan for habitat preservation and open space is essential. Supervisor Cox has been involved in the planning stages since the 1980’s. He explains, “When we did the planning for Otay Ranch, I was initially the Mayor of Chula Vista. We were working with the County of San Diego on developing the Otay Ranch. We brought in a consultant that worked with the city of Chula Vista and the County of San Diego. We ultimately approved a plan for that 23,000 acres that was the Otay Ranch where over 62% of that was going to be leftover in permanent open space. For every acre of land that was developed, the developer had to donate 1.188 acres of open space.”
Otay Valley Regional Park
On the western side of Chula Vista, “We have about close to a 1,000 acres of land between San Diego Bay and 805 that we’ve acquired through willing sellers.” Supervisor Cox says. The County also continues to identify various grant funds. Then, as other private properties become available, the County wants to try to acquire those.
The west side of Chula Vista has been historically known for its industrial use. What’s more, from the 1950’s to the 1970’s the State of California had a comprehensive plan to create extensive freeways. Those freeways cut through communities and razed down historic sites in the South Bay. The area became known for suburban blight. Since the 1980’s, the Supervisor has been engaged in what is most accurately called “urban recovery” of this land.
When I rode my bicycle through the Otay River Valley Regional Park in western Chula Vista, the trails meandered through plant and animal habitat indigenous to the region. There were ponds, commemorations and quite a number of hikers along the way. At the same time, getting closer to the I-5 and the I-805, these freeways were noisy, there was graffiti under their tunnels and a few homeless were sleeping in the bushes along the trails. All this made for a less-than-Yosemite experience.
When I asked the Supervisor about this stretch of land, he said that the area going from the Bayshore Bikeway to the Sleeptrain Amphitheater is “a highly urbanized area. That’s a given. It is bifurcated by three different freeways… We’ve had heavy sand and gravel mining going on there for years. That’s why you see some ponds that look pastoral. There’s some kind of neat ponds back there as you get away. But yes, if you’re close to I-5, you’re going to hear a lot of traffic. If you’re close to I-805 you’re going to hear a lot of traffic noise. As you get back into some of these other areas, we have about 8 miles of trails that we put in.”
The Vision: 9,000 Acres of Open Parkland
The grand vision for this Chula Vista land, and particularly its eastern reaches, will likely turn the South Bay into a highly sought-after outdoor recreation destination. The Supervisor explains, “Ultimately, the Otay River Valley Regional Park will be close to 9,000 acres. The vast majority of that, and as I mentioned we’ve got about 1,000 acres of land that we own, but as you come to the East it starts broadening out more. It’s not this string bean you see coming between I-5 and I-805. It starts broadening out and there’s another 7,500 acres of land that will be deeded over, at no cost to any governmental agency or any individual, as the Otay Ranch development is implemented.”
At No Cost?
The Supervisor says, “With the Otay Ranch Plan that was approved, not only do the developers have to dedicate property as they develop their different components, but there is an assessment that is placed over each home. Annual assessment which varies based upon the value of the home, but it’s probably 50-75 dollars a year that they pay into a fund to manage those open space areas. So there’s a funding source that will come with those properties… Not only do we have land being dedicated over for habitat purposes, but we have a funding stream that is actually being paid for by the residents in these homes to properly maintain it and restore it.”
Planning for the open spaces in Otay Ranch is still underway. The County might be a landowner, but they have to work with many other agencies, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, California Fish & Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management. For the Otay Valley Regional Park, they also have to work closely with the City of Chula Vista and the City of San Diego. As a consequence, the Supervisor says, the length of time until a project comes to fruition can be frustrating.
Still, from the maps provided by Supervisor Cox’s staff, the Otay River Valley Regional Park might one day rival any Southern California parkland. In addition, it may help prevent unchecked growth.
Coming Up: South Bay’s Future Greenbelt and a Barrio to Barrio Bike Path. Part One: South Bay Rising