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By Miriam Raftery

Photos: Supervisor Dianne Jacob proposed preservation of lands adjacent to those that Michael Beck, El Monte Nature Preserve LLC, seeks to turn into a sand mining operation.

August 7, 2015 (Lakeside) – The San Diego River Conservancy’s board voted unanimously on Thursday to support a motion made by Supervisor Dianne Jacob to lead a consortium of environmental groups in an effort to seek funding to buy parcels of surplus land that Helix Water District is planning to sell.  If successful, the acquisition would preserve the land for the public as open space with trails for hiking, horseback riding, jogging and dog walking. View full video of the hearing.

The lands are adjacent to a 200-acre property proposed for a controversial sand-mining project by a group called the El Monte Nature Preserve LLC. The parcels that environmentalists and trail enthusiasts hope to acquire total 37 acres, have an appraised value of over $550,000.

Lakeside residents and representatives of equestrian and environmental groups filled the meeting room to show support for the project, which was opposed by Michael Beck, co-owner of the entity seeking to sand mine the valley.  “There are a lot of people in this room, some of them very upset with me,” he acknowledged, then argued that trail restoration should be left to his company after mining is completed many years in the future.

But Jacob, a member of the San Diego River Conservancy board, disagreed. “El Monte Valley is a beautiful valley,” she said, adding, “I definitely think that the opportunity is before us to take public ownership.” She then proposed the idea of creating a coalition of interested parties "for the County to work with San Diego River Conservancy, San Diego River Foundation, Lakeside River Conservancy, Lakeside Frontier Riders and East County Equestrian Foundation and others to work together to find funding" for the County to buy the land.

Trish Digenan, a teacher whose family has lived in El Monte Valley for over 100 years, urged the Conservancy’s board to be “honest in your actions and transparent” about any ties to the El Monte Nature Preserve/sand mine interests. Apparently this was a reference to Beck, whose shadowy dealings while serving as a Conservancy director/chair  have sparked criticism and controversy, as both the Ranter’s Roost land use discussion forum operator Charlene Ayers and Billy Ortiz, founder of a Facebook page opposed to sand mining in El Monte Valley, have contended.

Digenan said her students will be looking at what happens with this land. “I hope the legacy is a grand one,” she concluded.

Correction:  An earlier version of this story listed San Diego Trails Alliance among the coalition, which the San Diego Union-Tribune reported previously.  San Diego Trails Alliance notified us that they are not a nonprofit and will not be part of the coalition. Additionally the Lakeside Frontier Riders has clarified that as a noprofit  it cannot take a political position however "Lakeside Frontier Riders are very passionate about our community of Lakeside, our trails and saving those trails for many generations to come."

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