Back Country Coalition works for conservation

Three government-sponsored juggernaut projects roll on, despite questionable rationale, environmental impacts and local opposition.

by Bonnie Gendron

  he Back Country Coalition (BCC) is an organization of groups and individuals from San Diego's East County who have been actively working to preserve natural resources, quality of life and rural character of the back country. Formed in August '97, its primary goals are: to ensure that only reasonable, well-planned growth occurs in our communities; making sure our elected officials and government agencies comply with existing laws in making their decisions; and to provide the public with factual information about relevant issues.


Scenic highway threatened


State Route 94 runs 64 miles, from Jamul to Boulevard. It is a beautiful, scenic country road that provides unspoiled vistas of rugged mountains, winding alongside riparian woodlands with 300-year-old oak trees, streams and through expanses of pristine grassland. SR 94 is one of San Diego County's last remaining, unspoiled scenic routes.

These natural treasures are under imminent threat of destruction by three projects that are being proposed by federal, state and county governments. They are the U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA) Tecate Port of Entry Expansion Project, California Department of Transportation's Passing Lanes project and the county's Tecate Rezone project. So far, none of the proposed projects has analyzed the cumulative impacts of all three projects. The projects are nearing their approval and the BCC needs more help in a variety of ways.


Tecate travesty

  The Tecate Port of Entry Expansion project will provide five times the processing capacity for big-rig trucks from Mexico. The project is not proposing to increase the amount of vehicle safety inspections and the worst trucks try to get through the Tecate facility. A California Highway Patrol inspection operation of 50 trucks in March of 1997 netted 40 citations and placed 32 (64 percent) of them out of service! The Calexico and Otay Mesa ports of entry have 24-hour Class A inspection facilities. This project refuses to analyze alternatives, such as using Mexican Highway 2 from Tecate to Otay Mesa, an underused, improved four-lane highway. The project also refuses to analyze its potential adverse impacts to the SR 94 corridor. The cost to complete the expansion is estimated to be $15 million.


Passing lanes project - we'll pass


 The SR 94 Passing Lanes project is supposed to be a "safety project." However, Caltrans is using old accident statistics from 1989-1991 to justify the work. Since 1991, Caltrans has made several "improvements" to SR 94. Current statistics show declines in accidents. This project has a $13.5 million price tag. It is only a small segment of the long-range proposal to widen SR 94 from the present 2 lanes to 4 and 6 lanes.The cost of the long range proposal will be closer to $900 million.

Removal of the ancient oaks for the Passing Lanes project will be mitigated with 400 oak seedlings, planted in a single, 2-acre area. Former Caltrans mitigation plantings have had a 90 percent mortality rate.

This project would not be necessary without the big-rig commercial trucks that now use the road, creating dangerous driving conditions for everyone. The trucks cannot legally or safely negotiate the sharp curves and steep grades without going into the opposite lane in many areas.

Caltrans' Phase II Study of NAFTA effects on SR 94 and alternatives to the project will be released in 1998. The BCC believes Caltrans should suspend the current project until the Phase II study is completed.


Rezoning - for traffic and pollution


The County's Tecate Rezone project is also unnecessary. This proposal would turn the entire Country Town of Tecate, California, into an industrial/commercial zone. The industrial and commercial zones which exist in Tecate now are underdeveloped.

The county's traffic analyses for the project at buildout have ranged from 10,000 to 55,000 average daily trips (ADTs). As of November 18, 1997, the estimate is 23,000 ADTs. The BCC's independent analysis of traffic volume at buildout shows 280,000 ADTs. Much of that additional commercial traffic would end up on SR 94.

There are no enforceable monitoring mechanisms proposed to control the traffic volume or water usage of the project. The water needs of the area are served by a sole-source aquifer . This project threatens to contaminate and deplete that important resource.


Local interest and action


The BCC has successfully generated major local media attention on these issues. The "State Route 94 Summit" on November 18, 1997 in Jamul, sponsored by the Second District Supervisor, was attended by over 100 people, many of whom were local concerned residents. BCC has been in close contact with Senator Boxer's office. Senator Boxer has written a letter to the General Services Administration, requesting further analyses of the alternatives be done before proceeding with the project.

The BCC has reviewed and commented on flawed environmental documents for these projects and we are preparing for possible litigation. BCC has the assistance of the Endangered Habitats League, and the Sierra Club has voted to oppose the projects. BCC is also working with other environmental groups in San Diego to develop a united front.


The last word


The GSA is expected to circulate a final Environmental Impact Statement in mid-December for the expansion project.. It will offer no analysis or mitigation of impacts beyond the project boundaries. GSA staff has stated that it will take "an act of Congress" to stop the project and they "have their marching orders."

The BCC will continue to work for protection of the SR 94 corridor and for alternatives to these destructive, expensive, unnecessary projects. Any assistance with our efforts or donations are welcome. SR 94 and its natural beauty are part of San Diego and belong to us all.

 Contact Bonnie at (619)445-4067 ( or Karen at (619)478-2513 or email for more information.