Town Hall Meeting Sponsored by the Bonsall Chamber of Commerce on June 22, 2015
By: Roxanne Greene and County Staff
On Tuesday evening, Mark Massen, Senior Park Project Manager for the San Diego County Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) spent a couple of hours of his time enlightening our community as to the status of a very large park that will parallel State Route 76 from Oceanside to Highway 15.
Mark and his team are not responsible for making decisions or schedules with regards to the park, they facilitate and coordinate the extraordinary amount of permitting and interagency cooperation required to build anything related to park development in Northern San Diego County. Mark’s department researches, coordinates and makes recommendations with regards to park improvements, but has no final say as to timetables or amenities – those decisions are up to the DPR Director and Board of Supervisors.
The San Luis Rey River Park (SLRRP) was conceived in the early 2000’s and the Board of Supervisors approved the Master Plan in September 2008. The SLRRP will be about 8 ½ miles long and consist of approximately 1,600 acres, of which 40-60 acres are planned for active use and the remainder will be passive use and preserve. The planned trail system will extend the entire length of the SLRRP from East Vista Way to Highway 15 and will accommodate pedestrians, horseback riders and bicycles.
An initial purchase of 119 acres of land was made in 2005, since then a total of 475 acres have been acquired for the SLRRP. Of the remaining acreage under consideration, ownership is split among the state of California (CalTrans), the City of Oceanside, school districts, water departments, Indian tribes, non-profit entities and private parties. DPR has a policy to seek willing sellers to purchase park property, rather than seizing it. Negotiations are underway with a number of those parties to acquire the remaining acreage needed for the park. Questions were asked by the audience as to specific parcels and properties, however Mark was not able to comment directly as disclosure could affect those continuing discussions.
CalTrans owns a large portion of the land, currently more than 700 acres that DPR hopes to eventually include as part of the park. The reason so much land is owned by the state is not only for construction of State Route 76, but also to mitigate for the environmental impacts of construction. DPR and Caltrans are collaborating on the transfer of the mitigation land to the County. There are many factors at work with regards to the transfer, such as which parcels will be included, what will benefit the park and most importantly, the endowment to operate and maintain the transferred mitigation land in perpetuity.
Much of the planned area of the SLRRP exists in a flood plain which will require additional permits to construct future improvements in the park. While this increases the cost to construct the park, the SLRRP will be more of an asset to Bonsall than an off-limits river bed. Funding for the park will be an ongoing issue for years to come. Mark and his team have been working with the County, pursuing grants to get funding for the purchase of land and development of the park. As a result, the park will have to be built in stages as funding becomes available.
Regarding the land itself, one of the parcels being considered for transfer to the County is the 290 acres northwest of Olive Hill and State Route 76 formerly known as The Groves. This acreage was initially considered as active recreation site with a staging area, but the active recreation portion of the plan was nixed when the size of the active recreation portion became too small.
Further complicating park access issues are private and semi-private roads at both ends of the park that the Parks Department would prefer to avoid using, if alternate staging area access can be negotiated. When the construction of State Route 76 is completed in late 2017/early 2018, the lot at the southeast corner of State Route 76 and East Vista Way is currently planned to be another staging area and trailhead for the park.
Before anything is built, community or town hall meetings will be held to determine what Bonsall expects from this park. When the Master Plan was developed, public input called for little league fields; however there is now a move towards soccer, demonstrating how, over time, public opinion can change the look and feel of any park. As Mark stated, DPR does not want to build a park that its stakeholders don’t want. County Policy I44 requires the DPR to have a minimum of two of community meetings to garner input on the active use portions of the Park and plenty of notice will be provided when these meetings are planned.
For these reasons, a firm start of park improvement construction cannot be estimated at this time. So-called “soft openings” of completed sections of the park can be done, if there is a reason for that section to be open. For example, it does no good to open a 10 acre portion of the park, with 5 of those acres devoted to a staging area, if the trails on that portion don’t go anywhere. Plans for the park include connections to the City of Oceanside, Fallbrook, Bonsall, and Valley Center community trail systems, so sections that are closer to these systems could potentially be opened sooner.
The SLRRP is much further ahead in the development process than projects of similar size and magnitude in other parts the County. Much of the land planned for inclusion in the park has either been purchased or in the transfer process, something that might slow down other park projects. Additionally, the SLRRP programmatic level Environmental Impact Report (EIR) has been completed, and the County has been working on project plans in conjunction with CalTrans’ constructing State Route 76, potentially taking years off the development process. DPR is also working with the County Department of Public Works (DPW) to see if certain aspects of the old SR-76 road and bridges can be retrofitted to accommodate park use, saving construction time and money. Some examples of this include using the old roadbed, after the asphalt is removed, for staging areas and using the historic Old Bonsall Bridge in place for pedestrian use. In fact, the Old Bonsall Bridge figures prominently in the planned SLRRP. It was designated an historical bridge and there are plans to retrofit it to current standards for pedestrian use when the SLRRP opens.
Once the park is built and opened, funding for ongoing operation and maintenance is an issue. Funding will primarily come from the Parks Department budget but third-party, friends groups and volunteers will also be important to the long term operations and maintenance of the park, improvements and trails.
So what can you do to assist in the development of the park?
The Bonsall Chamber would like to thank Mark Massen for coming to our Town Hall meeting and letting us know what is going on with the SLRRP. Given the scope and financial cost of the project, it’s not surprising this is a long process, although we all wish it would be finished sooner. For comparison purposes, Mark brought along a photograph of the proposed State Route 76…from 1962. Considering the highway is projected to be completed more than 50 years after it was conceived, the future San Luis Rey River Park is well underway!