Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Guest Posting: What The Construction of Jamul Casino Could Mean to Local Cycling

I average around 200 miles per week on my bicycle, riding in and out of the city of San Diego. Many of those miles are spent on Otay Lakes Rd, Honey Springs Rd, Lyons Valley Rd and bits of SR 94 in Jamul because they are often the shortest and least hilly way for me to take to go visit Black Jack the perpetually hungry donkey, the adorable Beacon Hill llamas, all sorts of cool mountain birds and flowers and a particularly adventurous and friendly pack of house dogs along Mother Grundy TT. 
The mostly shoulderless Otay Lakes Rd at lower lake.
These roads are mostly sleepy (the busiest of them all, SR 94, is still pretty sleepy compared to anything closer to the coast), but they are all quite unforgiving when anything happens. The more traffic on them, the more chance of things happening, however, and since there aren't many (and in some parts of Jamul, 'any') alternative routes to get to and through the area, when something like a crash or a fire or a stuck giant super semi-truck happens, it really causes problem both for the local residents who are just trying to get home from work (or work from home) and for passing-through traffic like me. 
SR94 east of Jamul Butte.
With the current (and apparently not-very-legal) construction of a casino off SR94 in Jamul that would increase traffic through it and the nearby feeder roads, I have been eying this project with alarm. So many previously cycling-friendly rural roads have been rendered nearly unridable post-construction of a casino (Pala Rd into Pala Mission, Valley Center Rd between N Lake Wohlford Rd and Hwy 76, Wildcat Canyon/Borona Rd, Dehesa Rd in Sycuan area). I wondered what can cyclists like me do about such a project... and so I decided to ask Kim Hamilton, a Deerhorn Valley resident and the editor of the Antlers, the area's newsletter, for a guest blog post on the subject. Here is her response:

A Chance For Cyclists And Drivers To Work Together
(...What A Concept!)
If you have ridden Otay Lakes Road or Rural 94 (Campo Rd) during the last couple of weeks, no doubt you have encountered large numbers of heavy-duty trucks plying the narrow roads. Double yellow lines are no deterrent to wide swings on tight (even blind) curves. In straight sections they push the 55 mph limit in a rush to dump off their tons of rock, dirt, and debris. And we’ve been told to expect this for the next 18 months.

Map of affected area.
The trucks are hauling excavated material from the Jamul Indian Reservation on Hwy 94 and Melody Rd (the Jamul terminus of Proctor Valley Rd). The tribe and their backers have launched a desperate attempt to construct a mega-sized Jamul Hollywood Casino on a tiny 4-acre parcel of disputed land. 
The problems for this big-city construction on this rural site are huge. Most serious for cyclists and drivers are the impacts on two-lane highway 94 (Campo Road) and rural feeder routes like Otay Lakes Rd. 

In a stark turnaround from normal protocol, Caltrans required no road safety improvements before it granted access to Hwy 94 for hundreds of daily trucks along two of the most popular and heavily used cycling routes in South and East County—part of the Great Western Loop that the Campagnolo Gran Fondo, the Olympic Training Center, and hundreds of cyclists use regularly.
One of the casino construction trucks was recently photographed having difficulties staying on the right side of the road on SR94 near Steele Canyon Rd. (Photo: James McElree)
Some history: Over the past two decades, four big-money corporations* bankrolled efforts to build a Jamul casino — to no avail. Tribal members collect monthly payments, but the legal, environmental, and safety issues are huge. The first three backers withdrew, losing millions in the process. The tribe itself is now more than $60 million in debt. A year ago Penn National Gaming came in with some (conditional) financing—and an in-your-face attitude. This is Penn’s first experience in California and they hope the Jamul’s proximity to San Diego might boost depreciating stock prices. So far Caltrans has made sure it hasn’t cost them much: a couple of flaggers and some caution signs. They approved the tribe’s Traffic Management Plan that included not one reference to cycling or cyclists. [*Lakes Entertainment, Station Casinos, Harrah’s Casinos, and Penn National Gaming]

So here lies an opportunity for drivers and cyclists to find some common ground—a chance to prove cyclists and rural drivers can co-exist and share the rural byways. The payoff could be in preserving access and improving safety for us all, and bolstering understanding that roads are for everyone. After all, they are shared public assets.

This Hollywood-themed Casino is no done-deal by a long stretch. San Diego County is suing Caltrans over their approval to allow hauling trucks such unrestricted access to Hwy 94, Otay Lakes Rd, and other feeders. The Jamul Action Committee (JAC) is filing a separate suit, and expects support from the Rural Fire District—with its concerns about increased crashes and a slowed response time to wildfire and medical emergencies. In fact the land itself, JAC argues, was never taken into “trust”— a vital pre-requisite for gambling, and upheld by recent Supreme and lower court decisions. That suit is due to be heard in federal court beginning March 28th.

I encourage the cycling community to stay informed and lend their voice and actions to this fight.  Rural roads are already the most dangerous in California, and Hwy 94 stands at the top of the list for fatalities and crashes. As the lawsuits wind their ways through the court system, it will take some organized action to keep the public informed. A mega project like this has no business being built without the space and infrastructure to keep roads safe. Period.

Here’s how the cycling community can help:
1) Register for email updates at: They won’t share your info with anyone else. 
2) Contact your county and state reps and share a cyclist’s perspective about Hwy 94 and Otay Lakes Roads would be impacted by casino traffic.
3) Consider joining together with rural drivers, pedestrians, and others to demonstrate the implications of thousands of trucks, cars, and buses added to Hwy 94.
4) Check out JAC’s Facebook Page:
This needs to be a shared fight with a positive outcome for all travelers, riders, and drivers.
Thank you for this opportunity to reach out.

1 comment:

berenice said...

oh mister Smorg, I have seen this issue a couple of times on the news... I don't know if I am not being "civilization" forward, but I really hope this construction doesn't happen, I hope the roads can be improved for the people and bike riders of that area, which is lovely by the way, but do we really need another casino?