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East County faces big changes, some obstacles

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A redeveloped performance hall, an expanded women's jail, a burgeoning employment center and the availability of water are each on tap in the East County.

In El Cajon, the 1,142-seat East County Performing Arts Center is to be expanded with new rehearsal and meeting spaces, but the exact scope of the plans at 210 East Main St. have yet to be determined. Plans are expected to gel in the fall.

Not far away at North Magnolia, East Park, Rea and Julian avenues, general contractors are preparing competitive bids for El Cajon's new Public Safety Center project.

The 5.7-acre facility will include 120,973-square-feet of police services office space in a five-story structure, 572 structured parking spaces, 89 surface parking spaces, a pedestrian plaza and a construction staging area. KMA Architects of San Diego and MWL Architects of Phoenix, which specializes in police facilities, are designing the facility.

Late last year, Ryan Cos. opened the RiverView Professional Center, which totals more than 63,500 square feet and were occupied quickly.

El Cajon is also in the process of planning the redevelopment of the 757-acre zone surrounding Gillespie Field. Eventual plans call for nearly 400 new hangars and a major upgrade of the industrial park, with office and light industrial space intended to lure higher paying jobs.

The city of Santee is counting on luring such high paying jobs through the ongoing development of the 108-acre RiverView at Santee project by Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos.

The project, which will ultimately feature 1.9 million square feet of technology, R&D, entertainment, office and residential uses along the south bank of the San Diego River, is only about three years into what could easily be a 20-year development.

Late last year, Ryan Cos. delivered six Class A buildings in the RiverView Professional Center, totaling 63,500 square feet that were occupied fairly quickly.

RiverView will be able to handle large corporate users with needs of up to 500,000 square feet if necessary.

Also included in RiverView's master plan are a 40,000-square-foot movie theater with up to 14 screens, and a residential component featuring approximately 240 condos.

While retail office and R&D development continues, a controversial plan to expand the Las Colinas Women's Detention Facility is moving forward. Last month, the California Correction Standards Authority granted the county $100 million toward the estimated $300 million project that Santee officials have unsuccessfully tried to get moved to another location for years. The acreage used for the jail would triple from 15 acres to 45 acres. That is expected to translate to about 852 new inmate beds in addition to the 675 it has today.

The combined campus-style jail would have about 460,000 square feet at build out and would include a library, exercise yard, a wide range of buildings for inmate industries and employment training, rooms for counseling and other functions. It would also feature parking for 300 to 400 vehicles.

The rebuilt and expanded jail is intended to cover the county's capacity needs until 2020. It's not clear what happens after that.

Santee has been against the project because the jail and the expansion footprint are in the heart of the city's Town Center area. Mayor Randy Voepel says his city's town center shouldn't be a dumping ground for such a project, and isn't thrilled with plans to expand the neighboring Sycamore Landfill, either.

Much of Santee's future is likely to be tied to what happens at the 2,600-acre Fanita Ranch development (see separate story), planned to have 1,380 residential units at build out when and if Barratt American obtains the funds to construct the project.

As of press time, the Carlsbad homebuilder was still trying to obtain funds from England to bail out the firm, settle litigation and pay off subcontractors.

Santee residents and Mayor Voepel are eagerly awaiting the extension of 52 that, when completed, will enable motorists to travel at freeway speeds all the way from La Jolla to Highway 67. The extension between Santo Road and Highway 67 is expected to be completed by 2012.

In La Mesa, not far from where patients are visiting a newly expanded Sharp Grossmont Hospital, Fairfield Residential is building the Pravada and Alterra projects, which will feature a total of 527 apartments adjacent to the Grossmont Transit Center. Eighty of these have been set aside for low- and moderate-income units. The transit-oriented project will also feature about 2,700 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.

The project is being constructed at a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver level.

Lemon Grove is also exploring the implementation of a plan that could ultimately bring about 350 units along with retail development adjacent to the trolley station, but these units would be constructed in multiple projects over many years.

Increasingly, the East County and how it develops will be governed by the availability of water. Leaders of Indian reservations and area residents have been at loggerheads for years over how the resource has been used for casinos, which in turn may be impacting area wells. The Barona tribe has long been trying to get a pipeline to the San Vicente reservoir to ensure a stable water supply, but the future of that project is uncertain.

Far to the east, a debate continues to rage as to how much water remains in the Borrego Valley aquifer. It is estimated to be low enough for the Borrego Water District to be considering importing water from the Colorado River into the desert community of Borrego Springs.

While there has been some increased development in the valley in recent years, the vast majority of the water is being consumed for agriculture, such as the grapefruit for which the valley is famous.

The problem is an average of 14,000 acre-feet of water is over-drafted annually in the Borrego Valley.

An acre-foot is enough to cover 1 acre to the depth of 1 foot, or about 326,000 gallons, enough to supply two families of four for one year.

"Continuing such an overdraft situation simply doesn't make sense," Richard Williamson, Borrego Water District general manager, said recently.

However, if even more water is bled off the Colorado River, there's sure to be a fight.

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