SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday agreed to purchase approximately 98 acres of land in the East County for $2.9 million in order to preserve it in perpetuity.
The supervisors agreed to commit funding toward a project in Lakeside’s El Monte Valley. The project could cost up to $9 million for necessary improvements to the land.
Those improvements include removing non-native plants, homeless encampments, improving a ball field and trails.
Billy Ortiz, known to many in the area as the “unofficial mayor” of Lakeside, told ABC 10News that he has been working hard to save the picturesque part of the county.
“I was born here; I feel like I’m part of the dirt,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz has been photographing and fighting to protect the land in the El Monte Valley for much of his life. It’s a treasure in the county some San Diegans may know nothing about or might never have seen.
“The seasons change the colors. The sunsets glow over the ocean. Any given day you can see a golden eagle soaring around in the valley,” said Ortiz.
The El Capitan Preserve looks down on the vast and beautiful valley, an area of diverse wildlife, equestrian trails, ranches, businesses and people who call the area home. Its archaeology, Native American history and recreation make the area a rich corridor that many have come to love and some to exploit.
The valley is renowned as a source of naturally formed sand mining materials, that have been extracted in large amounts for decades. And it has left scars, according to Ortiz.
“They’ll promise one thing and they do another. It’s hard to trust what they say anymore,” said Ortiz.
There is a sand mine project going forward right now, but the county’s purchase would protect 98 acres of the valley from any further development.
Helix Water District owns the land and offered it to the county for purchase. The county’s purchase of the land could protect a scenic corridor with a river trail that’s been proposed connecting the valley all the way west to the coast.
Ortiz said, “It’s the chain of life in El Monte Valley, that’s what they need to know. It’s something definitely worth protecting.”