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Wetlands: Car Park or Sanctuary?
August 2008 | by Liz Dernetz


Predating the Coastal Act of 1976, the 22nd District Agricultural Association (Ag District) has used well-documented wetlands at the southern and southeastern edges of its property for overflow parking. Now that the District has undertaken major redevelopment plans for the property, the environmental community wants the District to comply with the Coastal Act and relinquish these wetlands.

A boardwalk with interpretive signs follows the edge of the southern wetland, borders the river and ends at a viewing platform. A second trail section, just completed by Del Mar Rotarians and many volunteers, transitions from boardwalk to trail as it continues east towards the freeway. A stroll along the boardwalk and new trail affords easterly views of coastal birds, salt marsh and jumping mullet. But to the west and north, it borders the Ag District's South Overflow Lot (South Lot) and East Overflow Lot ( East Lot ); instead of bountiful nature, golf balls from the driving range pepper the site. Why these eyesores so near the $86 million Southern California Edison wetland restoration project?

In 1993, the Army Corps of Engineers officially designated the South Lot and part of the East Lot as wetland; in response, the Ag District undertook additional surveys in 1996 and 1999; their findings significantly reduced the percentage of wetland. Nevertheless, the Coastal Commission and California Department of Fish and Game have supported the Corps' findings and stated that both lots “....serve as a buffer between the existing more intense uses....and the sensitive habitat within the San Dieguito River Valley.” Use of the lots as overflow parking was authorized for just two annual events: the fair and the races. Yet the Ag District employs them for numerous other events as well.

In 2003, a Coastal Commission ruling authorized, among other things, expansion of the grandstand structure on condition that the Ag District restore the South Lot . The expansion was completed timely while the South Lot has yet to be restored.

Now the East Lot has been earmarked by the Ag District for construction of a permanent parking lot, according to their recent Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report. Should the Ag District be allowed to pave the East Lot , protections of the Coastal Act would diminish, thereby leading to further development in the future.

The San Dieguito Lagoon is the "gateway" to San Dieguito River Park. This coastal area has vital importance for the ecology of the region -- for birds as a stop on the Pacific Flyway, as nesting and foraging areas for endangered species, and as a fish hatchery. It is also a significant scenic resource for residents and visitors. It must be protected from further development at all costs by continued implementation of the Coastal Act.



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