San Diego River
A portion of the San Diego River. Photo via @SanDiegoRiver Twitter

The Board of Supervisors Wednesday unanimously voted to have county staff pursue the formation of a special financing district for the proposed 130-mile San Diego River Park and Trail.

County Parks and Recreation staff members recommended an enhanced infrastructure financing district — which doesn’t require new taxes or a ballot measure — that generates revenue based on partnerships with city governments and related boundaries.

County officials will ask the city of San Diego to support the EIFD, then return to the board in 18 months with the needed steps to officially form it.

First conceived 20 years ago, the trail project would stretch from the San Diego River in Ocean Beach to Cuyamaca Mountains headwaters in the town of Julian. Backers say that along with recreational benefits, the trail network would also be important for habitat conservation.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said making the park a reality has been a challenge due to economic conditions and jurisdictional issues.

“We all have to move together to ensure the funding comes in,” he said. “We don’t need a tax increase to get this done.”

He added that once the park is fully developed, it “will be there forever.”

James Inglis, Parks and Recreation budget manager, said a county task force in early 2021 held outreach meetings with various nonprofits, businesses, tribal governments, community planning groups and residents.

“The feedback we received was positive,” Inglis said, adding there was high interest in completing the trail.

Other groups advocating for a park trail system include San Diego Councilman Raul Campillo, Mayor Todd Gloria, the Kumeyaay Diegueno Land Conservancy, San Diego River Park Foundation, San Diego River Conservancy and San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

Rob Hutsell, CEO of the River Park Foundation, thanked the board for moving forward during Wednesday’s public comment period. He said his organization started over 21 years ago with one simple thought; to clean up and care for the river, and make it accessible for everyone.

“There (are) a lot of people supporting you on this today,” Hutsell added.

Mary Sheppard, who lives in the Mission Valley neighborhood, said she would love to walk down her street and enjoy trails and parks nearby.

“We’re woefully short of any meaningful, safe access to the river, and that became really apparent during the pandemic,” she added.

Supervisor Joel Anderson said it was also important to address the issue of homeless people living near the river bed and help them  — otherwise, residents may not want to walk on the trails.

Michael Vu, assistant CAO, said the county is looking at $150 million in state and federal funds to tackle the issue of homeless encampments.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said it was important to think about residents whose access to the river is cut off by freeway projects.

Lawson-Remer, who grew up in the Mission Hills neighborhood near the river and rides her bicycle from Old Town to Mission Beach, said she didn’t understand why elected leaders hadn’t previously invested in the San Diego River, considering its beauty.

She added that in other major cities, residents can more easily ride their bikes and hike near a river.

City News Service contributed to this article.