The big news that Supervisor Cox shared with me during his interview were three visions for the South Bay’s future:
- A “barrio to barrio” bike path will link the Virginia Avenue Pedestrian entrance at the border (due to open in 2016) to the Bayshore Bikeway;
- The Bayshore Bikeway should be complete within the next 5 years. It will become the major artery through the South Bay, linking North and South, East and West, to the Pacific Ocean to Otay Ranch. It will also link into the California Coastal Trail that spans up to the Oregon border;
- The Sweetwater Reservoir will eventually have a completed loop for hikers, bikers and equestrians.
Link From The New Port of Entry
The General Services Administration (GSA) has been reconfiguring the San Ysidro Port of Entry for several years now. The port, which is the largest land port of entry in the world, accommodating 50 million crossers each year, has not been upgraded since the 1980s. Northbound border wait times have increased sometimes up to 2 and 3 hours. Traffic congestion has meant horrible pollution and an increase in asthma rates for South Bay residents in comparison to the rest of San Diego County. Supervisor Cox has worked with organizations such as Casa Familiar to set up pollution monitors at the border. San Ysidro community members, however, have asked for more; they want park space, shorter vehicle wait times and a greater emphasis on accommodating pedestrians and bikes.
To that end, a brand new pedestrian crossing is set to open in 2016 at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. Known as “The Virginia Avenue Crossing” and located adjacent to the Las Americas Outlet Mall, the pedestrian crossing is a major victory for San Ysidro community members who were its advocates. Once the community received this concession from the federal government, they approached Supervisor Cox to ask for a dedicated bike path going from what will be called the “barrio to barrio” connection.
Supervisor Cox says he has always envisioned connecting the Port of Entry to the Bayshore Bikeway. As a member of the Bayshore Bikeway Committee as well as the Borders Committee at SANDAG, he has also been able to schedule funding. Although a definitive map doesn’t yet exist, the “barrio to barrio” bike path is in the works.
He says, “SANDAG is borrowing 200 million dollars. They are going to the bond market and going, okay, give us 200 million dollars. So you know we have this half cent sales tax, which will bring in 14 billion dollars over the next 30-some-odd years. So we want to get 200 million now so that we can complete some of these major bikeways. The “barrio to barrio” connection is one of them. Completing the Bayshore Bikeway is another one.”
Certainly we South Bay’ers eagerly await the completion of the Bayshore Bikeway. When finished — and the Supervisor estimates it will take about five more years — residents and visitors will be able to ride their bike from Coronado all the way around the South Bay (Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, National City, Barrio Logan) and into downtown San Diego. The Bayshore Bikeway is not only a recreational bike path. It’s a symbol.
For a long time, we in the South Bay have felt a frustration that can be summed up in one sentence we utter often: “Nobody knows we’re down here.” The Bayshore Bikeway connects us to the heart of San Diego. It puts us on the map.
Supervisor Cox gives us an update, saying, “We have the full funding now from SANDAG because they have what’s called an early action program where they’re really trying to look at the major regional bike paths that we have. Certainly, the Bayshore Bikeway is the number one that everybody focuses on. We still have about 70% complete now, but we have some sections in National City we need to get done, a couple of sections between Chula Vista and National City, between Palomar and Swiss Park. But those are being designed right now. The environmental work is being done on those. The section from 32nd street naval base up to the convention center, the Barrio Logan section is under design right now. In fact…the California Transportation Commission is meeting and they’re considering funding with a staff recommendation of 4.944 million dollars to help us provide the last increment of funding for the Bayshore Bikeway.”
The Bayshore Bikeway won’t just be a link between the South Bay and downtown San Diego. Supervisor Cox explains that it will also link into the larger California Coastal Trail. “I happen to be on a Statewide association Coast Walk that’s trying to complete the 1,200 miles of what ultimately will be the California Coastal Trail that will go from the Oregon border all the way down to Border Field State Park.”
He and his staff are also trying to figure out how they can tie the bikeway to the Tijuana River Valley that runs along the U.S.-Mexico border. (More on that in Part 4.)
Sweetwater Trail System
It might surprise you to know that Supervisor Cox represents a large equestrian community located both in Bonita and the Tijuana River Valley. What’s more, it may be a little known fact that the South Bay has the first and oldest county-owned park: the Sweetwater Regional Park, which dates back to the early 1970’s when Henry Bone was on the Board of Supervisors. According to Supervisor Cox, the County started buying properties and piecing them together during that time.
The Sweetwater area encompasses unincorporated Bonita as well as parts of eastern Chula Vista. Supervisor Cox explains, “Bonita prided itself for years and years on being an equestrian community. If you look out here at some of these developments, Corky McMillan did the Bonita Highlands and they were really designed as equestrian lots. A lot of them don’t have horses anymore, but there are still stables that are down in this area. People still own horses.”
Indeed, this area gets a lot of usage from hikers, bikers and equestrians, particularly around the Chula Vista Golf Course. As a consequence, the County is working on a plan to extend the trails through Bonita and into the Sweetwater Reservoir.
“A trail system already exists around the South side of the reservoir and then we’re trying to see if we can’t come up with a plan that would allow us to have a trail around the North side. This would be about a 14 mile loop for mountain bikers or hopefully equestrians, joggers, walkers that would go around the reservoir and this would continue on to the East, tie into the California hiking and riding trail.”
However, the project may take some time because “the Sweetwater Authority has some concerns about equestrian usage of some of these trails. We’re trying to put up an urban storm diversion system that would capture any pollutants, basically which is in the form of horse manure. It’s my water supply too. Obviously we don’t want to do anything that’s going to have an adverse impact on the water supply, but to the extent that we can work in a cooperative vein to come up with a plan that will allow more public usage where it’s appropriate, we want to do that.”