An extra $37 million for roads, parks, libraries and more: How San Diego County would boost land use spending

Hikers are seen from overhead walking up a trail among oak trees and boulders.
Hikers walk along the Mount Woodson Trail in January. Among the items included in the county’s proposed land use budget is a plan to build a parking lot at the popular trail’s eastern trailhead on Highway 67.
(Howard Lipin/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The proposed county budget would pave 100 miles of county roads and hire new workers for conservation areas and libraries.


San Diego County roads could see an upgrade in the county’s $8.1 billion proposed budget, which would focus on the basics with new sidewalks and traffic signals and more staff for parks and libraries.

The plan would increase spending 6 percent for the Land Use and Environment Group, which oversees environmental health, water quality, agriculture, infrastructure and more, raising its proposed budget by about $37 million to $667 million. Funding for the group flows from three sources, with 38 percent coming from the state and federal governments, 32 percent from fees, rents and leases and 30 percent from the county general fund.

The Public Works Department, which makes up more than half of land use spending, would see the biggest bump, with a $21 million — or 6 percent — increase bringing its budget to $365 million.

About half of that, or $188 million, would pay for infrastructure projects including road maintenance, traffic signals, sidewalks, bike lanes, curb ramps and pedestrian crossings, said Sarah Aghassi, the group’s general manager.

That would include $61 million for repaving 100 miles of county roads. “The trick with roads is, if you can keep them at a high pavement index, it’s going to be less expensive to repair them in the long run,” said Orelia DeBraal, the county’s acting public works director.

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Capital funds would also add 17 traffic signals and 14 sidewalk and pathway projects throughout the region. That includes new sidewalks to connect local streets with Allen School in Bonita, Rock Springs Elementary in Escondido, Joan MacQueen Middle School in Alpine and Fallbrook High School.

Another $66 million would go toward green infrastructure projects, officials said, including half a million dollars for sustainability plans at the county’s eight airports to map out how to reduce resource consumption, environmental impacts, and greenhouse gas emissions.

The boost in public works spending also includes $4.4 million for employee raises and 14 new positions — seven dedicated to the county road program, three to capital projects and others for flood control, traffic engineering and other tasks.

Parks and recreation funding would rise almost 7 percent, from $70.7 million to $75.6 million. Just over $2 million of the increase would pay for raises and benefits, as well as 14 new staff positions.

That would include six employees to run the county’s Multiple Species Conservation Program, developed to preserve natural land throughout the county. The county is hiring wildlife biologists, naturalists and field managers to restore habitat, expand public access to some preserves and monitor threatened and endangered species, parks director Brian Albright said. Another five positions would be added to manage expanded park facilities, along with others for capital projects and administration.

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The budget includes funds to plant and maintain 5,000 trees on county park properties and another 5,000 throughout the region. And it would add a parking lot and staging area at the Route 67 trailhead of the Mt. Woodson Trail to Potato Chip Rock, expand campgrounds at Sweetwater Summit Regional Park in Bonita and fund improvements for two new parks, Village View Park in Fallbrook and Calavo County Park in Spring Valley, Albright said.

Spending on county libraries would jump 13 percent, from $58.8 million to $66.5 million. Although that’s the highest increase in the group, it will largely cover rising costs of ongoing expenses, rather than major new initiatives, officials said.

About $3.1 million of the funding increase will go to salaries and benefits, including employee raises and pension contributions, as well as six new staff members to help run small, rural branches, Library Director Migell Acosta said. Another $3.5 million will cover services and supplies, including books and library materials, facilities, maintenance projects and automated book sorters. The spending plan would dedicate an extra half million dollars to e-books, he said.

The Department of Environmental Health and Quality, which handles restaurant inspections, mosquito abatement, beach water testing and hazardous waste management, would receive a 4.4 percent budget increase, boosting its spending power from $60.4 million to $63 million. It would add eight employees in administration, vector control, hazardous materials and land and water quality.

Spending plans for other departments within the Land Use and Environment Group would remain at or near the current fiscal year’s spending levels. The executive office for the group would see a 2.3 percent increase, from about $11.5 million to $11.7 million.

Planning and Development Services, which is responsible for land use planning and oversees development proposals, would receive a 1 percent bump from $53.2 million to $53.7 million. And spending for Agriculture, Weights and Measures, which supports San Diego County’s $1.75 billion farming and ranching industry, would rise 0.3 percent, from $30.9 million to $31 million.