By Miriam Raftery
View our interview by clicking the image at left.
November 18, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) – San Diego County Supervisors on Wednesday voted unanimously to approve Supervisor Joel Anderson’s proposal aimed at expanding access to local lakes where hours have been cut back during the pandemic.
The measure directs the County’s Department of Parks and Recreation to start discussions with outside agencies managing East County lakes and reservoirs, with a goal to keep reservoirs open for recreational activities.
"These are great, COVID-approved recreational activities for families," Anderson said of hiking, fishing, boating and other lake-related opportunities. In an interview with East County Magazine also aired on KNSJ radio, he added, "I wanted to fulfill my campaign promise in the first year."
Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, public access to many of the lakes was threatened due to City of San Diego budget cuts, so the County stepped in on a one-time basis to provide funding to help the lakes remain open to fishing, hunting, and hiking. That action came after Anderson, then a candidate for Supervisor, collected over 1,200 signatures in support. While that was a short-term solution, even now many of the lakes remain closed several times a month due to budgetary constraints.
On Wednesday, Anderson urged fellow Supervisors to go farther, backed by a new petition with over 750 signatures of people wanting expanded lake access. The measure approved 4-0 (with Supervisor Nora Vargas absent) will open talks with the City of San Diego, Sweetwater Authority and other entities and gives staff 180 days to propose a plan of action.
Anderson made clear in an interview with East County Magazine that he expects to see the County allocate some funds to help get local reservoirs open—and aims to keep a campaign promise work with regional partners to protect long term access to lakes.
"That's what makes East County a jewel," Anderson said of our region's backcountry lakes.
Those funds might potentially be offset in the future through improvements such as campgrounds or cabins to generate revenues. Anderson envisions enhancements to ultimately assure 24/7 access, citing Santee Lakes as an example. "People love it. You're in the city but feel like you're in the country."
Reservoirs impacted include El Capitan, Barrett, Hodges, Sweetwater, Sutherland, San Vicente, and others.
In a letter to Supervisors prior to the vote, Anderson stated, “Access to publicly owned land is vitally important for the overall health of our communities. Outdoor recreation can provide stress relief, socialization, and nature appreciation through physical interaction with the natural world. In times of crisis or disaster, outdoor recreation also provides an important means of coping.”
Following the vote, he said, “I am thankful to my board colleagues for recognizing the importance of today’s action. The protection of our long-term access to lakes and reservoirs for recreational activity is vital to the health and wellness of those who live in our backcountry,” Anderson says.
Many individuals also participated in the board meeting, in-person and by phone, to share their support. “We thank Supervisor Anderson for his work on this important issue and appreciate the County’s efforts to keep its lakes and reservoirs open for outdoor recreation,” shared Mark Hennelly, Vice President of Advocacy for non-profit California Waterfowl.
George Courser, Chair of the Sierra Club San Diego’s Conservation Committee, shared, “Supervisor Anderson’s elegantly simple concept has the power to bring much needed recreation to the entire County of San Diego…Our County’s reservoirs provide equity access to fishing, boating, hiking, bird watching, and other enjoyable and healthy outdoor recreation activities.”
ECM also asked Anderson whether he might support advocating for infrastructure bill funding to repair the El Capitan dam, which has a "poor" safety rating from the state but has the highest risk level for flood damage if it breaks, including flooding the new SDSU campus on the site of the former stadium. He indicated that if the City of San Diego which operates the dam seeks such funding, he would be willing to write a letter of support.
"I want to do right by the people I represent," he said, adding that he intends to keep all of his campaign promises.
He also discussed his efforts to bring shelters and services for the homeless in East County and other unincorporated areas, as well as bringing mental health services to El Cajon.
"We are moving forward partnering with El Cajon and Santee." He indicated staff will bring back a proposal for Supervisors. He anticipates the plan will also include safe parking for those living in vehicles, tiny homes and "other out of the box thinking...We deserve to have the same resources in EAst County as downtown or North County or the South Bay...so that we take care of all of our neighbors."
He concluded that he wants to see options for everyone to get off the streets. "If we saw an animal living that way, we would rescue them. I believe in rescuing all of our neighbors."