This month, construction has begun on Santee’s Castlerock Community (Update: Now called Weston). This area is just next to my home. I am just walking distance away, and I wanted the opportunity to photograph the hills above Santee before they were carved and changed forever.
As luck would have it, I was busy enjoying the first part of the Summer with my daughter when the Earth Movers began to roll in. I wasn’t able to capture the hills above Santee pre-development, but these photographs are still very early in the process. I hope they present an interesting contrast to what the area looks like when the development is completed.
I took the photographs with some environmental issues in mind. Housing will always be important needed for communities. It is particular concerned when undeveloped land is used, because that is unsculpted earth that will never be available again. There has been some reprieve from these developments after the 2008 Great Recession, but with the economy picking up steam, they are coming back.
Ironically, I grew up obsessed with maps, cities, grids, and these developments. I was engrossed by Thomas Guides, because each year I could see the new streets, neighborhoods, and development of small suburbs into larges cities of their own.
These hills mean a lot to me. I enjoy hiking throughout Mission Trails Regional Park, and these hills are an extension of that small range. The nearby Santee Boulders are used by a lot of rock climbers. I can’t help but think there is something special being spoiled. Castlerock’s developer is promising open space, hiking trails, and some nods to the environment, but this is still a sensitive chaparral zone that has a history of fires. It doesn’t feel comfortable to see the hills being cut.
I have to be realistic as well. The creation of Mast Blvd. itself already disturbed the lower section of the hills, and a high-tension power line runs right through the middle of the hills. Service roads go up and down the ridges and canyons, and of course, the unsightly and lousy Sycamore Canyon landfill in San Diego City Limits towers over the area. This isn’t virgin soil by any means, but part of the charm in living in Santee is having the ring of picturesque mountains circle the community.
Still, I finish here with a simple thought. The last few years, I have really invested a lot of time walking to improve my fitness. One of the walking loops I use takes me along Mast Blvd. across the street from what will now be the Castle Rock development. In the early evening, I have enjoy many sightings of a band of coyotes crossing the street through West Hills High School. Because I have often found them near Santee Lakes in the morning, I have presumed they are out for dinner. Coyotes have often adapted to human development and this seemed to be the case, crossing a man-made street through a man-made school, on their way to a man-made set of lakes.
Since the earth movers began, I haven’t spotted any coyotes anywhere. They may have been a single band, I don’t know. They may have moved, certainly, they are able to adapt. But there is a nagging feeling that they may not be able to survive more human development. They may silently disappear. And while canis latrans is in no danger of extinction, it is a silent marker of what is lost each time a new development is made. I don’t think the Santee Castlerock development is going to end human civilization by any means, but 1,000,00 of these developments will have a lasting impact. At some point in the longer arc of human development, that impact needs to be mitigated. I won’t be around to see that through. But I hope some great people down the road will.
These photographs were taken from Mast Blvd only, either from the North easement along the curb, or from the Southern side of the street. None of these images were made beyond placed fencing or on private property.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.