By Toni G. Atkins | Notes from Toni
Our San Diego River is a jewel — a 52-mile rural and urban waterway running from Julian to Ocean Beach — and for many local residents, it remains undiscovered. I want to do everything I can to help enhance access to the river and continue to protect its entire 440-square-mile watershed.
Overseeing the river is the San Diego River Conservancy, a state agency that’s role is to preserve, restore and enhance the river and watershed. In 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown signed my bill, AB 392, making the San Diego River Conservancy a permanent agency. With the stroke of his pen, our local conservancy joined nine other permanent California environmental conservancies, putting it in position to receive more consistent funding.
This year, I introduced SB 214, which builds upon AB 392, by adding representatives from the city of Santee and the Kumeyaay Diegueño Land Conservancy to the river conservancy’s board of directors. That will strengthen efforts to protect and enhance the watershed along the eastern portions of the river and bring our tribal neighbors and partners to the table. SB 214 also gives the conservancy greater authority to enter into joint powers agreements, which adds to the agency’s toolbox.
I was thrilled when Gov. Brown signed SB 214 late last month; but it didn’t end there. Days later, he also signed another one of my bills, SB 667, which essentially creates the Riverine and Riparian Stewardship Program. This program strengthens our ability to protect and enhance waterways throughout California and its largest impact will be on urban rivers and streams.
SB 667 provides technical assistance with planning, design, construction and project evaluation to organizations trying to enhance or restore waterways in their communities, to reduce flood risk, improve habitat or public access to rivers and streams. The program also encourages collaboration with our university systems, creating educational and field-experience opportunities for students in ecology programs.
The bill doesn’t appropriate funding for such projects, but it creates the comprehensive approach for how the funds will be spent as they become available.
One source of funding for SB 667 is likely to be SB 5, the major parks bond that passed this session in the Legislature and was signed by the governor. SB 5 places on the June 2018 ballot a $4 billion bond measure that will fund projects in three broad categories: “Parks,” “Water” and “Climate and environment.”
The bond would include two major specific funding allocations that will be of interest to San Diego County residents — $200 million for restoration work on the Salton Sea, located just east of our county border and $12 million for the San Diego River Conservancy.
In addition, the San Diego region would receive per-capita funding for local park improvements and also be eligible for funding under numerous categories within the bond on a competitive basis. Our county historically does well with these types of grants, so we’ll be in a good position to bring in millions of dollars for projects that will enhance our quality of life.
We could see new funding for these types of projects: rehabilitation, repurpose, or improvement of existing parks; deferred maintenance for county fairs; lower-cost coastal accommodations within state parks; habitat restoration in state parks; urban stream restoration (my SB 667); implementation of natural community conservation plans; and acquiring land for nature reserves that are overseen by the University of California.
I was as proud to support SB 5 as I was to introduce my bills, SB 214 and SB 667. I remain committed to protecting and enhancing the San Diego River and all of San Diego’s beautiful and natural places.
— Toni G. Atkins represents the 39th District in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.