San Diego has some incredible riding, but non-stop, greed-driven development is ruining this former paradise.
Harmony Grove used to be a bucolic country road with a chicken farm and open, rolling hills. Now it’s almost unrecognizable.
Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.
After living in North County San Diego for the past five years, tomorrow I am moving. San Diego has been a terrific place, as I have met an incredible group of lifelong friends here. The riding is very challenging; punchy climbs with extremely technical features including rocks everywhere and giant ruts that will swallow you and your bike whole. There are lots of connecting trails too, enabling huge rides that can be in excess of 60 miles without ever touching pavement one time. IMBA would consider many trails in San Diego “non-sustainable”, but that’s what makes them fun. Many of the trails are on raw, natural terrain that isn’t groomed to appease the masses.
Winter is absolutely the best time of year to ride in San Diego, with moderate rainfall to compact the normally loose and sandy soil and January temperatures in the 60s that make the rest of the country jealous. Summer can get very hot and dry, and it’s typically the off season for most people. But you can still get a good ride in early in the morning or late in the evening when the summer sun isn’t as intense.
So if I have a lot of friends and the riding is so great, why am I leaving? Aside from personal reasons, San Diego is no longer the paradise that it used to be. Sure, the weather is incredible, but that’s part of the problem. The weather here is so good that everyone wants to live in San Diego, and based on the rampant, non-stop development, it seems everyone does.
Although the economic crash of 2008 stopped development and home building for a few years, greed-driven developers are back on track, taking their earth movers and gargantuan excavators to transform beautiful, bucolic areas of North County into wastelands of graded dirt and rock piles in preparation for another thousand or so homes packed together like sardines in a can, littering the hillsides that used to be lined with amazing trails.
Although building a singletrack trail is considered “destruction of natural resources”, this is considered “progress”.
Harmony Grove, Black Mountain and La Costa are three areas in the midst of massive development projects right now where beautiful habitat and incredible riding used to exist. Giant yellow Caterpillars now traverse the hillsides, with hundreds of graded plots just waiting for another tract-hell home built ten feet away from another virtually identical abode.
While I understand “progress” is inevitable, there are still parts of the country where land is abundant and people understand that non-stop development is an unsustainable practice. Where is all the water coming from to supply these new homes? Can the roads leading to and from these new developments handle the sudden rise in traffic that these neighborhoods will generate? What quality of life do you have when you’re constantly stuck in traffic and you can barely manage to pay your bills every month?
Not only are open spaces disappearing at an alarming rate in San Diego, but with the influx of new people and homes, it’s putting undue pressure on what little open space areas remain. Only five years ago, places like Elfin Forest and Lake Hodges didn’t have nearly the same amount of foot traffic they do today. Riding trails on a Saturday or Sunday used to be enjoyable, now they have become a constant game of dodging hikers with strollers and off-leash dogs.
This increased traffic on multi-use trails inevitably causes conflict, which in some cases leads to the closing of trails to mountain bikers, or in places like the Bay Area, it leads to bonehead rangers standing on the side of a trail with a radar gun, writing $300 speeding tickets to mountain bikers who exceed the posted 15mph limit.
What really makes me an ASS is the complete hypocrisy with which governmental bodies and landowners have operated. Take for instance a few friends of mine who were building a singletrack trail in the Double Peak area of San Marcos. The trail is now known as 765, which happens to be the total fine the three guys paid to the City of San Marcos after they were caught building the rogue trail.
All three of them – middle-aged family men with homes, jobs and kids – were hauled into court like criminals and slapped with an offense titled “destruction of natural resources” for building a small trail no more than three feet wide and a mile in length with a couple hand saws. Meanwhile, less than a quarter mile away from this incredible singletrack that is now a legal trail the entire neighborhood uses for recreation, half of the entire mountain is blasted out, dug into and graded flat with massive excavation equipment.
Fencing, signage and Caterpillars are popping up everywhere in San Diego after the 2008 economic collapse.
As we speak another 100 or so tract homes are being built right next to 765 Trail. But decimating pristine habitat for thousands of tract homes isn’t considered “destruction of natural resources”, it’s called “progress”; so long as you have millions of dollars to pay off the government.
This kind of short-sightedness combined with the constant influx of people to an area that can’t handle much more growth is a major reason why it’s time for me to move on. Sure, the weather here is great, but for me, it’s not great enough to justify what’s happening to a place that used to be a complete paradise. It’s a sad reality, as we’ll never get these pristine habitats back. I guess the only option is to live in a place that abuts National Forest where development can never happen. But I’m sure if our government gets desperate enough, even that land may fall into the hands of greed-stricken developers.
A friend of mine tries to put it all into perspective, telling me how much better the riding in San Diego is compared to where he used to live in Florida. While I understand where he’s coming from, I’d never live in Florida in the first place, so the point is moot. The fact is San Diego will never be the mountain bike destination it could have been because municipalities don’t care. People want to live in San Diego for the weather and the allure of the Southern California lifestyle that has become an empty, hollow shell of its former self. Paradise has indeed been lost.