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By Miriam Raftery

Images via Stop Cottonwood Sand Mine


Update January 9: Due to a COVID surge the January 12 meeting has been cancelled. The virtual meeting on January 19 at 7 p.m. can be accessed at this link or this link: https://bit/ly/CottonwoodSandMine or you can call (619) 343-2539 and provide conference ID number 972 237 701#.


December 28, 2021 (San Diego) – A Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) is now available on the controversial proposed Cottonwood Sand Mining project along the Sweetwater River on the Cottonwood Golf Club site. There are several opportunities for the public to weigh in, including an in-person meeting January 12 at Hillsdale Middle School in Rancho San Diego and an online/phone teleconference January 19. You can also submit comments via mail or email, which must be received by February 14 at 4 p.m.


The project at 2131 Willow Glen Road would extract around 6.4 million tons of sand over 10 years from 214.4 acres. The developer contends the sand is needed for construction and road building in our region, to avoid costly importing of sand.  


The project has drawn opposition from thousands of local residents concerned over harm to wildlife in the adjacent national wildlife preserve as well as impacts on residents including traffic, noise, and air quality.

"We will review the DEIR with diligence to see if any of the community concerns have been addressed," said Board Chair Elizabeth Urquhart. “Most importantly, although it's been a long wait since the project was proposed in 2018, the community needs to know it is now the right time to speak up and register concerns over the community impacts, despite this being the holiday season. We need our neighbors to understand we cannot sit still as we continue to voice our opposition. We ask residents to inform their friends and neighbors to sign up at our website. We need to all work together to inform the community and to ultimately stop this sand mine.” Their concerns are documented at


Below are details provided by the County’s Planning and Development Services Department on the DEIR and how you can make your voice heard. Be sure to reference the project name and number in your comments.

Dear Interested Stakeholder, 

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that the County of San Diego is circulating for public review a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act, along with a Major Use Permit (MUP) and Reclamation Plan (RP) for the Cottonwood Sand Mining project.  The DEIR can be reviewed at  and at the Planning & Development Services (PDS), Project Processing Counter, 5510 Overland Avenue, Suite 110, San Diego, California 92123.  Comments on the DEIR must be sent to the PDS address listed below and should reference the project number and name. The County encourages written comments on the project to be submitted in electronic format.  

COTTONWOOD SAND MINING PROJECT (PDS2018-MUP-18-023), (PDS2018-RP-18-001); LOG NO. PDS2018-ER-18-19-007; SCH#2019100513

The Cottonwood Sand Mining Project (Project) proposes the conversion of the existing Cottonwood Golf Club golf courses to a ten-year sand mining operation with an additional two-year reclamation period. Approximately 214.4 acres of the approximately 280-acre site are proposed for extractive use which would occur in a total of four phases. The extraction process would occur in three phases over the span of ten years and the cleanup, equipment removal, and final reclamation would occur in the fourth phase over 2 years. Areas included within the Project boundary that are not disturbed by mining would be subject to habitat improvement through removal of invasive species in the river channel (if necessary) or would be left in their current condition including the existing Sweetwater River channel. The Project would make certain improvements to Willow Glen Drive prior to beginning mining operations.  The Project’s mining operations would extract, process, and transport aggregate consisting primarily of sand suitable for Portland cement concrete. Approximately 4.3 million cubic yards (cy) (6.40 million tons) of material are proposed to be extracted, with approximately 3.8 million cy (5.7 million tons) produced for market use. Sand excavation and processing would occur Monday through Friday, between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Trucking operations for material sales would occur Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.. There would be no processing of materials or trucking from the site on Saturdays, Sundays, and major holidays. Reclamation of the site would include the removal of all manmade structures, grading to achieve final landforms, incorporation of accumulated wash fines and salvaged topsoil, and revegetation and monitoring. The Project requires a Major Use Permit (MUP) and Reclamation Plan (RP). 

The project is located at 3121 Willow Glen Drive within the Valle De Oro Community Planning Area within the unincorporated area of San Diego County.  The project site extends west to east from approximately 600 feet east of the intersection of Willow Glen Drive and Jamacha Road, to approximately 0.25 miles west of the intersection of Willow Glen Drive and Hillsdale Drive.  Willow Glen Drive parallels the north side of the project site and Steele Canyon Road bisects the western portion of the site.

The DEIR identifies significant environmental impacts to the following environmental factors: Aesthetics; Biological Resources; Cultural Resources; Noise, Paleontological Resources, and Tribal Cultural Resources. Impacts to Aesthetics, even with mitigation measures, would remain significant and unavoidable. All other potential significant impacts would be reduced to less than significant with implementation of mitigation measures. The DEIR documents can also be reviewed at the Rancho San Diego Library, located at 11555 Via Rancho San Diego, El Cajon, CA 92019 and the Casa de Oro Library, located at 9805 Campo Rd., #180, Spring Valley, CA 91977.  Comments on the DEIR must be received by the County no later than February 14, 2022 at 4:00 p.m. (60-day public review period). Comments on the DEIR must be sent to Robert Hingtgen , Planning & Development Services, 5510 Overland Avenue, Suite 310, San Diego, CA 92123 or emailed to

There are two options to participate in an in-person or virtual meeting and the same project material will be covered at both meetings. 

An in-person public meeting will be held on the DEIR on Wednesday, January 12, 2022from 7:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. at the Hillsdale Middle School Multipurpose Room, 1301 Brabham Street, El Cajon, CA 92019. 

A following online/phone-in public meeting/teleconference will be held on Wednesday, January 19, 2022 from 7:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. The meeting may be accessed at this web link: or the meeting can be accessed by calling (619) 343-2539 and providing conference ID number 972 237 701#.

For additional information regarding the Project, please contact Bronwyn Brown by e-mail at or by phone at (858) 414-3244.  


Among the Major Project Issues identified by County Planning & Development Services are these:: 

Consistency with the San Diego County General Plan, along with the Valle De Oro Community Plan and Rancho San Diego Specific Plan – As noted in the letter, County “staff cannot move forward with a recommendation of approval until the project is found consistent with all applicable General Plan and community plan policies.”

Land Use/Community Character Consistency – “The character of the area consists of residential, recreational, civic and open space uses, and the project request is for a sand mining, an extractive use,” the letter indicates. “The Rancho Specific Plan identifies the golf course serving as a buffer area and providing a larger setback to sensitive habitat areas. In order to assess the potential impacts to community character a land use and community character analysis shall be prepared…”

Major Use Permit Findings – The letter notes the requirement that the location, size, design, and operating characteristics of the proposed use must “be compatible with adjacent uses, residents, buildings, or structures.” Among other things, consideration must be given to “the harmful effect, if any, upon desirable neighborhood character; the generation of traffic and the capacity and physical character of surrounding streets; (and) the suitability of the site for the type and intensity of use or development which is proposed.”

Biological Resource Constraints – The site contains jurisdictional waters of the State of California and the United States, including protected wetlands, requiring approval from State and Federal resource agencies. “Several federally endangered and/or threatened species have been identified on the project site or within the vicinity of the project,” the letter continues. Given the sensitivity of the area, the letter provides a list of agencies that must provide project approval, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish & Wildlife. “Any impacts proposed within the National Wildlife Refuge would require…an environmental document that addresses both state and federal environmental requirements. Please note that Major Amendment areas in particular can take years to complete and could result in significant delays in the processing of the project.”

Visual Resources – “Based on an initial review,” the letter additionally notes, “it appears the proposed project may adversely affect visual resources. Willow Glen Drive is designated as a County Scenic Road. Views from scenic vistas, scenic highways and County Scenic Routes, and public recreation areas will need to be analyzed further to determine the extent of any adverse impacts.”

A 115-page Scoping Letter issued by the County in May 2019 provides additional details on the approval requirements, including the need to address impacts involving noise, air quality, altered hydrogeologic conditions, and overall “significant impacts on the environment.”

The Sweetwater Authority, the public water agency that manages Loveland and Sweetwater Reservoirs, also previously sent a letter to the County detailing its concerns about the potential impacts, “…as this project proposes a variety of activities that could significantly increase pollution of the Sweetwater Reservoir.”

The Committee continues to seek those who can assist with expertise in any of the areas noted among the Major Project Issues listed above, and/or in the areas of Land Use, Noise, Traffic and Traffic Safety, Air and Water Quality, Archaeological and Cultural Resources, and Biological Resources. Please contact the Board at

Community meetings held by were attended by hundreds of residents, and in late 2018 over 2,100 petition signatures and 70 additional comments were submitted to the County of San Diego from area residents opposed to the plan. County staff also reported over 130 emails or letters received directly from residents. Over one thousand residents, most representing a household of two to four family members, have also signed up on the group’s website to receive ongoing communications about actions they can take to reject plans for the sand mine.

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