San Diego City Lakes facing further budget cuts, additional lake closures

SAN DIEGO’S San Vicente Reservoir recently gave up this 9.78-pound largemouth caught by outdoor writer, George Kramer.

BY Tom Lowery

Special to Western Outdoor News

SAN DIEGO— The Friends of the San Diego Lakes is a community of people that enjoy all the City Lakes throughout the City and County. We advocate to make Recreation better and prevent budget cuts. We are really concerned about how Lake Recreation is managed and has continued to decline over the years.

The City is finalizing the 2025 Budget right now and they have a proposed a $59,000 cut to the City Lakes Recreation Program that will result in the following:

  1. El Capitan Reservoir will be closed during the month of January starting in 2025
  2. Hodges Reservoir will be closed an additional month in February
  3. Sutherland Reservoir will now only be open Saturdays and Sundays

This is NOT acceptable and we are very frustrated with this situation when millions of dollars are spent elsewhere and the County has announced an increased Budget but has shown no interest in helping with funding.

We urged the City Council to reverse the proposed Public Utilities Department (PUD) lakes recreation cuts as Council Member Marni von Wilpert asked “can we find the money somewhere?” to prevent the lake recreation closures.

This $59,000 amount is insignificant when compared to the over $1 billion amount that is the PUD overall lakes budget. However, it has a disproportionate negative impact on taxpaying constituents. This means less opportunity for kids to experience the lakes while fishing with parents and for families to share picnics and parties at the lakes ,in their backyards. We are trying to grow youth recreation programs through events and more youth fishing. There will also be less revenue for businesses that support the fishing industry in the city and county of San Diego.

According to Fish and Wildlife statistics there were over a million-and-a-half fishing licenses sold in San Diego in 2023. These cuts will negatively impact over ¾ of a million licensees.  These cuts seem small, but when taken in concert with the closing of every major city lake for an additional day each month, and total closures during COVID, cutting access to these lakes is used every year to cover budget shortfalls.

At the turn of the century, San Diego was increasingly mentioned as one of the top largemouth bass fishing destinations in the world by national magazines like Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, and Bassmaster magazine.  Now we are barely mentioned. If tourism supports this city, why not reclaim our role as a valued destination for freshwater fishing tourism across the country?

We urged the Council to reverse these cuts and instead allocate more funding to the Recreation Program. We encourage the city to invest more in San Diego City Lakes recreation for the tremendous economic impact it brings to the city and county. We also encourage a partnership with the County to seek County funds.

Perhaps a longer-term solution is instead of cutting budget to a service the PUD doesn’t want to provide and would like to not have to deal with any recreation on the lakes, why not divest or transfer these services to a city department that has these skills?  Or, have the PUD manage the water resources and let the County manage the recreation?

There is a better way! We urge the Council to “find the money somewhere” and recommend to the Mayor to give the PUD City Lakes Recreation Program exempt status reversing the $59,000 cut in the 2025 budget.

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