By Miriam Raftery
A proposed industrial solar farm in Lakeside’s scenic El Monte Valley is stirring up controversy. Property owner David Pressman/OCI Solar Lakeside has proposed to build a 40-acre solar photovoltaic project with approximately 8,500 solar panels on El Monte Road. OCI is a Korean company with holdings in the U.S.
A hearing on the plan is set for December 3rd at 6:30 p.m. before the Lakeside Community Planning Group at the Lakeside Community Center.
“Everyone I have talked to too is against it for many reasons.” says photographer Billy Ortiz. “My reason is El Monte Valley is and should always be a scenic corridor, period.” He posted photos of the proposed site and drew some strong responses.
Susan Flynn, granddaughter of famed environmentalist John Muir, wrote, “They have already ruined the valley below the San Vicente Dam.”
Her remark refers to Sunrise Powerlink, which built over the objections of many residents. San Diego Gas & Electric paid a large fine for failing to notify Lakeside residents about a route change that ran the high voltage power line through El Monte Valley, a designed county scenic view corridor. The solar project, if built, could tie into the Powerlink that many here feel was built without residents even having an opportunity to provide input.
Flynn is adamant: “El Monte Valley is beautiful and unique and it IS a historic part of Lakeside and should concern us all.”
Angeloa Magdoleno-Eylander voiced sadness at the news. “Why does man have to ruin everything!?!” she asked. “It is so beautiful and peaceful looking.”
La Mesa resident and outdoor enthusiast Craig Maxwell called the valley “one of the most beautiful places in the near East County. This cannot happen. Please tell us how we can help.”
Dorothy Toston Combs reflects, “It is just so sad that this place is going to be changed.”
To which long-time Lakeside resident Tricia Diegenan counters, “Not a done deal. Come fight for it.” She noted that various “bad” plans have been proposed for the valley through the years ; many such as recent proposed sand-mining project have been unsuccessful due to the vocal efforts of residents. “Let’s not give up!” she said, urging residents to “speak your mind” at the Lakeside Planning Group meeting. “I am not against solar,” she made clear, but added that in El Monte Valley, it should only be on roof tops or roadways, not open land.
Some voiced frustration with the system and with their elected officials.
Torrie Ann Needham wrote simply “As pretty as anywhere else on earth…Government doesn’t listen to the people anymore.
To which Digenan pointed out, “Freedom is not a guarantee. It’s fought for.”
Others voiced outright anguish. Thomas Butch Hayes wrote, “My Lord Billy, why can’t they just leave it alone for God’s sakes!”
Several residents faulted the landowner. Ortiz states, “The land owners are looking for a way to make money without working the land as their father did before he died.” He added that the father used to let agricultural students from El Cap High School plant oat and hay on this plot of land to earn money from their school. He criticized the son for taking away from our Lakeside kids.”
Linda Christopher Watson summed up her view of the problem in a single word: “Greed.”
Solar is touted as a solution needed to help California meet its mandate for renewable power and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But increasingly, residents in rural areas are asking that solar be put on rooftops and parking lots -- closer to urban areas where the demand for power is highest -- instead of despoiling some of the last and most pristine views left in San Diego's inland region.