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Over 1,500 sign petition to save valley from sand mining


By Henri Migala


Photo: marchers support land purchase to protect land from sand mining


February 7, 2021 (Lakeside) -- San Diego County Supervisors are slated to vote this Wed., Feb. 10 on purchasing 98 acres of Lakeside’s  El Monte Valley from the Helix Water District. A petition signed by more than 1,500 people urges them to vote yes, in hopes of protecting the valley against sand mining and protecting it for posterity. (An earlier petition to stop sand mining in the valley drew more than 3,000 signatures.)


Former Supervisor Dianne Jacob introduced the measure to protect the land for the public and prevent it from becoming a sand mine. Jacob, who represented District 2 which includes Lakeside, was a forceful ally of the community and the Kumeyaay in their efforts to protect El Monte Valley, a designated county scenic view corridor, from being mined. She secured funds and gathered support of other Supervisors to purchase the land, but term-limits ended her tenure before the issue came up for a vote. Now her replacement, Supervisor Joel Anderson, and two other newly elected Supervisors, will cast deciding votes.  


To make sure the new Supervisors are aware of the strong sentiments of the community, a “Save El Monte” demonstration and march was held by Kumeyaay Native Americans and people from across San Diego County on Saturday.


The event was attended by around 200 people, including tribal elders and members from various Kumeyaay Nation tribes, community members, and even faculty and students from UCSD. The Kumeyaay Bird Singers also sang traditional tribal songs throughout the march.


An earlier parcel sold by Helix Water District in El Monte Valley is proposed for sand mining. Residents and tribal members want to make sure that fate won’t befall the separate 98-acre parcel now up for sale.


Many people and community organizations are trying to stop the mine by informing and mobilizing the public to urge the Board of Supervisors to honor the commitments of their predecessors. Over 2,000 signatures have already been gathered for a petition to urge the Board of Supervisors to purchase the 98 acres during their meeting on Wednesday.


In addition to protecting the land for public use and preserving sacred Kumeyaay sites, the 98 acres on the Supervisors’ agenda this Wednesday is critical to helping stop the mining efforts because the site is at the entrance to the valley. Protecting these 98 acres for the public  would make it more difficult to mine the rest of the valley, say the event organizers.


Before the march, several Kumeyaay leaders spoke to the group, thanking them for attending, sharing why the El Monte Valley is important and precious to everyone, and to remind everyone that as they walked through the valley, to remember that they are walking through Kumeyaay ancestral lands containing old habitation and even burial sites. The marchers would be walking through sacred lands, and as one Kumeyaay leader said, “Every step is a prayer.”


Two of the most predominant community mobilizers are Bobby Wallace, a tribal member of the Barona Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, and Billy Ortiz, 62, a native of Lakeside. Ortiz is  the founder of, and energy behind, Save El Monte Valley. 


Bill Ortiz, Lakeside native, speaks out


Ortiz recounts the following story:  “About 10 years ago, I heard that Helix Water District wanted to use the sand in the valley as a natural filtration system to recycle water that would be piped from Padre Dam Water District’s filtration plant at Santee Lakes. At the time, they owned the Valley. The plan, at the time, was to extract and sell some sand from the Valley to help pay for the water recycling project. They would also install a series of ponds to allow the water to percolate naturally into the aquifer in the valley.”


The old EIR (environmental impact report) for that project stated that they would remove 14 million cubic tons of sand over 25 years.


Helix owned the land in the valley, originally 532 acres, and wanted to build a sand mine to pay for their water movement/treatment plan to Lake Jennings. Bill Adams leased some of the land from Helix to build a golf course. But things got complicated and Adams sued Helix. Adams won the suit, and the settlement allowed  Adams to purchase the 532 acres for $9 million (land that some contend was worth considerably more).


Once the land was paid off, the people who won the lawsuit wanted to create their own sand mine. El Capitan Sand Mine/Preserve LLC made the first attempt at mining the sand, but their proposal was met with fierce opposition from communities throughout the region. 


The sand mining effort was then revitalized under Horizon Hill El Monte Investors, LLC, which took over the development of the project. Horizon Hill El Monte Investors is revising the original EIR, and will release it to the county, which will then release it to the community for review and public comment.


The original EIR proposed mining down to about 5 feet above the waterline so that the mining wouldn’t affect the groundwater. It’s unclear how deep the new mine proponents want to dig.


But there’s a problem in mining to five feet above the waterline, Ortiz notes. During the drought years, the water table goes down. So technically, as the water table lowers, the miners can keep digging lower and still stay five feet from the waterline. But during a rainy year, the water table will rise and go above the level of the mine. This will create standing water, and the standing water could become breeding grounds for various vectors, such as mosquitos, which carry West Nile Virus, Bird Flu, and other diseases.


Also, the original proposal stated that the processing plant would be on-site running 24/7. The process of washing the sand creates pollutants, and those pollutants are accumulated, so the dirty water would be pumped back into the aquifer, polluting the groundwater. 


Then, there’s the issue of all the dust, which means they have to use more water to continually spray the ground to keep the silica that’s in the soil from becoming airborne and inhaled by local residents and people throughout the county.  


There are valley fever spores in the El Monte Valley. Valley fever is spread via a fungus that lives in the dirt. When the fungus is disturbed, it becomes airborne and can get inhaled. Once it’s in your lungs, it starts growing fungus in your lungs that can get into your bloodstream. It doesn’t affect only humans. It also affects pets, like dogs, cats and horses. It can be fatal.


To prevent this from happening, the plan is to keep all 532 acres continually wet. If they’re going to do that, that’s a whole lot of water that sand miners would be using.


In El Monte Valley, runoff flows down from the surrounding mountains, carrying sediment along the way. That sediment that comes down the mountain settles in the valley and has been accumulating over thousands of years. Now there’s at least 150 feet worth of sand in some areas of the basin. And the miners want the sand. They’ll bring big machines, dig it up, and haul it off (250 trucks each day), wash it, and then sell it to companies that make cement.


Helix Water District has two lots totaling 98 acres at the most western end of El Monte Valley. These properties have sand on them.


When Dianne Jacob was in office, because land conservancies didn’t have the money to purchase the properties, Supervisor Jacob said the Board of Supervisors would purchase the land, and she came up with the funding before leaving office due to term limits.


Whenever a public utility company is selling land, the first right of refusal to purchase the land goes to the conservancies, such San Diego River Park Conservancy, or the San Diego Riverpark Foundation, or the county.


Photo, right: Billy Ortiz leads marchers


"Now, after the election, the Supervisors are all new. They don’t really know about East County and the fight we have out here,” says Ortiz. “Our peaceful walk on Saturday, February 6, was to get the attention of the Supervisors to let them know what’s happening. To draw attention to what Dianne Jacob started and that we want them to honor and finish the agreement their predecessors arranged and agreed to. We care about our community and we care about what happens to our diminishing open spaces and sacred lands.”


If the Supervisors vote “yes” on Wednesday, the land will go to a conservancy in perpetuity to manage it for the public. If they vote “no” and refuse to purchase the land, then anybody can purchase it--including Bill Adams and Horizon Hill El Monte Investors. If Bill Adams and his investors purchase these critical parcels, they would own the entry to the entire valley. 


“The side-effects of the mine in El Monte would affect everyone in San Diego County,” claims Ortiz, who survived Valley Fever that he believes he contracted in the El Monte Valley. “Santa Ana winds will blow the Valley Fever fungus all over the County. And again, the fever doesn’t only affect people. It’ll affect all the dogs and cats, and all the horses in the county – which probably has more horses than any other county in southern California.”


Residents fear that miningg would also adversely affect property values in the area. 


“Your million-dollar house will be worth less than half-million because it’s near a huge sand mine. Who wants to live next to a sand mine? And 250 trucks going to and from the mine every day, not only spreading the dust and fungus down all the highways, but wearing out and tearing up all the roads. As well as all the fumes and pollution from 250 trucks/day, coming in and out of the valley. People in the valley are going to have to breathe those fumes every day.”


Bobby Wallace, tribal member, seeks to protect ancestral lands


Bobby Wallace is a tribal member of the Barona Band of Mission Indians.  He has been an active and vocal activist in protecting the valley from being mined. “I represent myself, as a Native American, and as a member of the Barona Band of Mission Indians. This is the beginning of the end if we don’t start taking care of our natural resources,” he says.


The El Monte Valley is in the traditional indigenous lands of the Barona Band. “We hunted and foraged here for thousands of years, and where the water flows for El Capitan used to be all villages along the way. We lived there, in the traditional way, until 1932, when they started displacing us to take our land,” says Wallace. “The San Diego river was a life-line for our people. We’re native people who were hunters and gatherers. Our people have lived here since the beginning and there are quite a few native artifacts throughout the El Monte Valley that give testament to our long history in this region.


Tribal members from the various Kumeyaay Bands are all coming together to support the community of Lakeside to protect the valley and our sacred sites, according to Wallace. “Our goal is to promote community support, both from the Kumeyaay and all the other local residents.”  


The developers are going to screen all the sand and disrupt all the cultural and sacred artifacts, he contends. “We’re human beings, and we should be treated as human beings, with respect. We want to protect something good and beautiful from being destroyed. We want to protect our cultural heritage, our history as indigenous people who have been here from the very beginning. As the original owners, dwellers and stewards of this region, we want to, we have to, protect the natural resources of the valley for everyone. And to prevent contamination of the air from the Valley fever that’s in the soil,” Wallace says passionately.


“Mother Earth has been bleeding for way too long, and the more the people turn their heads away from this kind of stuff – digging up the sand, contaminating the water and the air, the less of our precious natural resources we’ll have,” he adds.


Wallace continues, “We know that progress has to happen. We understand and support that. But why do we have to compromise and sacrifice the history and culture of our people? If someone destroyed and desecrated, by digging up, someone else’s graveyard, or grave sites, that would be unconscionable and indecent. Why is it then OK when people, or companies, dig up and destroy our heritage, our cremation sites, our gravesites, our heritage and history?”


The public event on Saturday was planned in collaboration between the Kumeyaay/Diegueno leaders and tribal members, Lakeside River Conservancy and all community members in Lakeside and San Diego County.


“I love the river. I love our history. I love my people. I care for the people of Lakeside that I grew up with and love. We’re all in this together…” says Wallace. “We want the people who make the rules to hear our voices and understand. We all have to work together. All of us. But we can’t compromise, because we’re putting people, and our limited, fragile and rapidly diminishing natural resources at risk.


Photo, left: Tribal activist Bobby Wallace


“We need the leaders of San Diego to realize that we care about the people in Lakeside. We don’t want to tear up all the trees, the trails, to destroy the Kumeyaay sacred sites.


The whole thing is all, and only, about money. We have enough sand companies already. And there’s no guarantee that the sand they take from here will even stay in San Diego. Or even California. Or even the US. Why not get sand from somewhere else instead of destroying the natural beauty, endangered wildlife and sacred sites in Lakeside?


“The walk on Saturday was to bring the community together, build relationships and urge the County Supervisors to acquire the land and protect it from development.”


Other community members were also happy to share their thoughts and why they came out to advocate for El Monte Valley on Saturday:


Alicia Wilson, Lakeside resident


“I was raised in Santee, but I’m now from Lakeside. I’m here to fight for the valley. It’s sacred land, and they’re trying to destroy it. And, it’s my home.


“We already took the land from the Kumeyaay, and we owe it to them, because this land is everybody’s land. And also because of the Valley fever. It’s a fungus that lives in the soil, and when it’s disturbed and it becomes airborne, it can infect your lungs and you can die from it. It’s very serious.


“I want this land to stay just the way it is, to be enjoyed and respected.”


Tracy (“Teresa”) Thomas, Lakeside equestrienne 


“I’ve lived in San Diego since 1978, initially in El Cajon, but then moved to Lakeside in 1985, we have a couple of acres, horses and a lot of dogs,” says Thomas. We used to ride in El Monte Valley a lot. The mining would affect the whole area and all the trails. It will affect all the wildlife; it will affect all the people’s usage of it. It’s a beautiful ecological place. I don’t know how else to explain it. I love El Monte Valley. I always have.”


Thomas believes the mine will ruin the ecology. “We don’t need that mine. It’s a selfish reason that they’re doing it, and it’s going to destroy the wildlife in the valley. And the trails, and our accessibility,” she says.


Sand, a scarce resource


What is the second most consumed natural resource in the world? Sand. It’s the primary raw material that all modern cities are made of, from the concrete used for buildings, office, apartments, and stores, to the asphalt in and connecting cities, to all the glass from windows to windshields to cell phone screens, as well as pretty much every piece of electrical equipment in our offices, homes and personal lives.


The demands of a growing, increasingly urbanized world, requires extracting 50 billion tons of sand per year. But if we look at all the sand in Saudi Arabia, all the beaches in the world, the vast Sahara (so vast, actually, that it touches 11 countries), and every other desert in the world, the world appears to have a seemingly limitless supply of sand. 


But none of that sand can be used for construction. Sand that has been tumbled by the winds in the desert, and by the waves in the ocean, becomes too smooth and rounded to be used for building. There aren’t enough rough edges to allow the sand particles to adhere to other elements. Sand used for construction isn’t just ordinary sand, and the sources of the right kind of sand are becoming increasingly scarce every year.


As with many other global issues that also play out in our community, enter San Diego. Specifically, El Monte Valley, in Lakeside, the site of one of the most precious minerals in the world – extraordinary sand. 


It is also the site of an extraordinary valley, rich in biodiversity, including endangered animals, such as the ring-tailed cat, and part of the sacred ancestral homeland of the Kumeyaay, the indigenous “First Nation” of this region (spanning southern California and northern Baja).


If sand is not mined in El Monte Valley or elsewhere within San Diego County, then it must be imported, adding to the cost of construction projects. So Supervisors must weigh whether the benefits of protecting El Monte’s natural resources, cultural resources and the health of its residents outweigh the potentially higher costs of importing sand from elsewhere.


County Board of Supervisors Vote: Wednesday, February 10


The County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the purchase of the 98 acres in El Monte Valley at 9:00 a.m. at their meeting this Wednesday, February 10.  The El Monte Valley land acquisition is the first item on the agenda.


As stated in the Board of Supervisors’ Agenda for February 10:


Agenda #1. 


Subject: CONTINUED ITEM FROM 01/13/2021 (01): 




Due to the Covid epidemic, in-person attendance of Board meetings is not allowed. Instructions on how the public can participate in Wednesday’s meeting, and to submit comments, please refer to the county website:


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  on Valley Fever


The following information came from various CDC websites listed at the end of this article:


Valley fever is an infection caused by the fungus Coccidioides. The scientific name for Valley fever is “coccidioidomycosis,” and it’s also sometimes called “San Joaquin Valley fever” or “desert rheumatism.” The term “Valley fever” usually refers to Coccidioides infection in the lungs, but the infection can spread to other parts of the body in severe cases (this is called “disseminated coccidioidomycosis”).


Valley fever (coccidioidomycosis) incidence in California has increased significantly since 2014. During 2016–2017, 42.4% of California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey respondents reported general Valley fever awareness, but only 25.0% of persons living in a high-incidence region were aware that they lived where Coccidioides spp. exist. Among persons at increased risk for severe disease, only 3.5% knew that they were at increased risk.


In California, valley fever incidence increased 213% from 2014 to 2018.


There is no vaccine for Coccidioides.


On average, there were approximately 200 coccidioidomycosis-associated deaths each year (deaths in which coccidioidomycosis was listed as a primary or contributing cause on a death certificate) in the United States during 1999–2016, according to National Multiple Cause of Death data.


Although most cases of Valley fever are not associated with outbreaks, Valley fever outbreaks linked to a common source do occasionally occur, particularly after events that disturb large amounts of soil.


It’s very difficult to avoid breathing in the fungus Coccidioides in areas where it’s common in the environment. People who live in these areas can try to avoid spending time in dusty places as much as possible. People who are at risk for severe Valley fever (such as people who have weakened immune systems, pregnant women, people who have diabetes, or people who are Black or Filipino) may be able to lower their chances of developing the infection by trying to avoid breathing in the fungal spores.


The following are some common-sense methods that may be helpful to avoid getting Valley fever. It’s important to know that although these steps are recommended, they haven’t been proven to prevent Valley fever.



  • Try to avoid areas with a lot of dust like construction or excavation sites. If you can’t avoid these areas, wear an N95 respirator (a type of face mask) while you’re there.
  • Stay inside during dust storms and close your windows.
  • Avoid activities that involve close contact to dirt or dust.
  • Use air filtration measures indoors.
  • Clean skin injuries well with soap and water to reduce the chances of developing a skin infection, especially if the wound was exposed to dirt or dust.
  • Take preventive antifungal medication if your healthcare provider says you need it.



CDC sources:


Elected Officials:


Opponents of sand mining in El Monte Valley urge members of the public across San Diego County to contact Supervisors via this link before Wednesday’s hearing to urge a “yes” vote on purchasing land from Helix Water District in El Monte Valley.


East County Magazine contacted Supervisor Joel Anderson to request comments for this article on Feb. 3. Anderson spokesman Scott Barnett has advised ECM that Supervisor Anderson will be issuing a press release on the El Monte issues. He also sought to clarify that the property proposed for acquistion is separate from the parcel proposed for sand mining. In an email, Barnett states, "The sand-mine east of the El Monte property is in no way related. It is going through the public process and ultimately will end up at the BoS (Board of Supervisors).  Buying El Monte or Not is irrelevant and will not impact the sand mine proposal."

Assemblywoman Marie Wallace, whose district includes Northeast County  wrote an opinion piece in Times of San Diego titled “Opinion: Deadly Valley Fever a “Silent Epidemic’ in California. ECM left a message her District asking her to comment on the threat of Valley fever in El Monte Valley, but no response was received.


Helix Water District grants water for sand mine project:


According to the San Diego Union Tribune, in an article published on December 23, 2020, “The Helix Water District board of directors has agreed to supply water over the next 20 years for a controversial sand-mining project in the El Monte Valley in Lakeside,” a key step needed for the sand-mining project to proceed.


Registered Lobbyists Horizon Hill El Monte GP, LLC:


According to the County of San Diego website, dates February 2, 2021, the following individuals are registered as lobbyists for Horizon Hill El Monte GP, LLC:


Benedetto, Craig S.


Haddad, Benjamin A.


Video links:


Marchers walking along Highway 67 towards El Monte Valley


Kumeyaay Bird Singers singing traditional songs:


Dr. Henri Migala is the founder of Henri Migala Photography. He has won numerous photography awards and most recently had one of his images chosen as a “Top 10” finalist  in the  Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest out of 48,000 submissions.  The independent photographer has previously provided video and photography for ECM ranging from bighorn sheep in the Anza-Borrego Desert to presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s San Diego visit. 

He has lived and worked in 15 countries in global health, international development, higher education administration and humanitarian aid including disaster relief. His past positions include Director of  International House at the University of California San Diego, Executive Dean and Grants Administrator for Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, and Adjunct Faculty instructor at San Diego City College. He holds a doctor of education degree from San Diego State university, a Masters in Public Health from the University of North Texas, and a Master of Art degree at the University of Texas, where he studied anthropology. A volunteer and board member with Aguilas del Desierto, Inc., he helps save the lives of lost migrants. As a Rotary Club President, he has  worked with International Relief Teams.  He speaks three languages (English, Spanish and French) and has won many awards for community service and international activities include working to eradicate polio through the World Health Organization, as well as participating in rural, border and cross-cultural health issues, disaster relief and reconstruction.  Dr. Migala has published numerous academic papers and written nearly $30 million in grants that have been funded. 

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