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How Big is Too Big?
The Fairgrounds Master Plan

December 2008 | Jacqueline Winterer, President of the Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley

Fairground from the North 1940. 
Courtesy of the Del Mar Historical Society


A major development that will profoundly affect Del Mar is very quietly taking shape within the City boundaries with only very occasional public input and much secrecy.
The 405 acre Del Mar Fairgrounds includes about 240 acres in Del Mar on Jimmy Durante Boulevard.

For eight years the Governor-appointed Del Mar Fairboard has been working on an update of their Master Plan. The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is being written by only two of nine board members, Barry Nussbaum and Russ Penniman, plus Tim Fennell, Fairgrounds Manager. State law prohibits policy discussions with less than a majority, but the other 7 appear to show no public curiosity about this multi-million dollar project, and the public is left in the dark. Their non-elected status protects them from potential public dissatisfaction, and they seem to accept in blind faith what may emerge from this thoroughly secretive process.

The State process is fundamentally different from local Del Mar projects. For example, Del Mar’s 25,000-sq.ft. Garden Del Mar project (slightly over ½ acre) underwent a thorough 2 year reviewing process with multiple meetings and a dialogue between the project proponents and the public. It received 85 % voter approval.

The Fairgrounds Master Plan public notice for 340 acres of the Fairgrounds properties was only 11 pages long for a project significantly larger than the Garden Del Mar property! Since then Fairgrounds staff met privately with some respondents to address issues raised. These meetings were never public.

For Delmarians who are concerned with view impacts, the buildings planned for the northern San Dieguito River bank include a 178,000-sq.ft exhibit hall flanked by a 330-room condo-hotel where the present fire station is now located. The condo-hotel will be 43 feet high with a 182,000 sq.ft ballroom. The fire station will have to be relocated outside of the Fairgrounds boundaries. View, noise, and traffic impacts will be dramatic in and around Del Mar, as well as other nearby communities.

The EIR is now scheduled to be issued in February 2009, with 90 days to review.

Those committed to the protection of wetlands mandated by the 1976 Coastal Act will advocate the permanent return of the south and east lots next to San Dieguito Drive to their official wetland status. The Fairgrounds has used these well-documented wetlands for parking because a limited use was allowed before Coastal Act adoption. This major revision requires compliance with the Act, returning the wetlands to their natural protected status.

So what can the public do about this immense life-altering project? Watch for the issuance of the Environmental Impact Report where the project will be finally known in its entirety, then read it carefully and respond to the EIR and then to the Coastal Commission.



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