The State Legislature has earmarked $5.9 million for a road to the southwest corner of the United States, where the Pacific Ocean meets the border between Mexico and the U.S., Border Field State Park and county officials say.
But it won't be done any time soon, according to Tijuana National Estuary Research Reserve Refuge manager Chris Peregrin, who is a state parks employee.
"Because the project is located in a place of natural and cultural sensitivity, design, permitting, and clearance of environmental reviews will take some time. Furthermore, since the approved funding only covers the initial design phase, additional funding will be needed to complete the design and construction of this project," Peregrin said in an email. "A project of this scope can take up to five years to complete provided no unforeseen delays."
In June, state legislators set aside money for the last mile and a half of Monument Road, locking $5.9 million from the settlement between the Department of Homeland Security and the California State Parks into improving the road. But, because of concerns over the lack of a plan, the legislature awarded just $678,000 of the $5.9 million to begin the environmental studies and engineering plans. The rest has been designated as money for the road, according to budget language.
County Supervisor Greg Cox led the local push for the road, working with Tijuana River Valley residents and equestrians to help keep money from the park after it went into the state's park's general fund.
While no one opposed the road improvement, because the money landed without being earmarked for where it would be used, it could have ended up elsewhere in the state.
"The proposed road would give San Diegans and visitors more access to a beautiful scenic park that can be enjoyed year-round," Cox said. "The funding for the road would not have been possible without the help of Speaker Toni Atkins and Senator Ben Hueso."
Monument Road only open now 60 days a year
The road has been open less than 60 days a year — because it floods after rain with water and sometimes sewage (including an incident after the last rains) and because the park doesn't have enough staff to work the entrance booth, park officials have said.
That often leaves groups planning an event at Friendship Park making the 1.5-mile trek on foot — or they sometimes ride in with the assistance of Border Patrol agents. On Saturdays and Sundays, the Border Patrol opens the gate between the secondary and primary fences to allow people to visit with family members in Mexico and for church, community and immigration activists to hold events there on weekends.
Three-mile trek to Border Field State Park
"We believe the poor condition of the road threatens to undermine the very mission of Border Field State Park, which is to provide a recreation area for the public," said Rev. John Fanestil of Friends of Friendship Park. "Many other members of the public are effectively prohibited from visiting Friendship Park when the road is closed: families with small children, the elderly, and others with limited physical ability who cannot make the three-mile round-trip walk to Friendship Park. The amenities at Monument Mesa were intended for the use of these people, as well."
Thousands of visitors are discouraged each year from visiting Friendship Park, he noted. "Each weekend dozens of cars drive to the Border Field entrance at the western end of Monument Road, and turn around and drive away when they discover that the road through the State Park is closed to vehicles," he said.
The park road was last slated for improvement in 2004, when the state legislature allocated $8.4 million to build sediment basins in Goat Canyon and build an elevated Monument Road.
It's not clear if the road was redone then or not.
Peregrin said the California Coastal Commission refused to allow the improvements to the road.
Coastal Commission worries re saltmarsh habitat
"My understanding is that the previous design was tied into the creation of the Goat Canyon Sediment Basins and that the road improvements would have required take of a significant amount of saltmarsh habitat. The Coastal Commission would not approve that level of saltmarsh disturbance and therefore that project element was not pursued further," he said.
Marathon Construction did basins, Rick Engineering designed the road
But the contractor that built the sediment basins, Marathon Construction, said the road was completed and immediately destroyed. Joe Ellis, project manager at Marathon, said that the work was finished but then floods in 2004 — which the sediment basins were built to contain, raised the land on both sides and compromised the road. It was designed by Rick Engineering, he said.
The Marathon crew went back to work in September 2014 and completed the sediment basins, which are still there.
The $5.9 million came from a settlement with the feds, who took land along the southern edge of Border Field State Park to build more fence and a road next to the fence for Border Patrol use.
Disclosure: I have written legislators to make the park accessible and improve the road.