November 2009 home page


Pave Paradise
Pam Slater-Price | Chair of the San Dieguito River Park, JPA


Put Up A Parking Lot, Hotel, Convention Center,
Sports Club, Whatever Else Doesn’t Fit
Grandstand entrance looking South 1937.
Courtesy Del Mar Historical Society.


One of the largest remaining swaths of open urban land in San Diego County - the Del Mar Fairgrounds and the river valley - is about to be blighted with a huge parking garage and a hotel, and most San Diegans don’t even know about it.
Yet other than Balboa Park , the Del Mar Fairgrounds and the San Dieguito River Park combined are probably the most visible open space in the region. Drivers can clearly see both from Interstate 5.

Is it all threatened? The only way to know is to get involved.
The long-awaited Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the 2008 Master Plan for short and long-term projects at the Del Mar Fairgrounds is now open for public review and comment. The comment period - your time to write a letter to express your opinion - is October 9, 2009 to January 8, 2010.

The EIR outlines a massive expansion plan. The information about the hotel and parking garage is buried among more than 1,000 pages of the EIR’s technical data. The summary alone is 122 pages. The 22nd District Agricultural Association, which oversees the fairgrounds, racetrack and other state agricultural land, prepared the EIR to analyze impacts to aesthetics, views, agricultural resources, air quality, traffic circulation, among other concerns. Up until now, only planners and engineers have bothered to read the material. Yet we are fast approaching public hearings.

The EIR rightfully warns of significant noise and traffic impacts. It speaks of new events to fill the annual calendar. More events mean more backups on I-5 more often.
It states that Del Mar’s fire station would need to be moved. It includes plans for a 60,000- square-foot health club and sports training facility, a Las Vegas-like 48-foot high lighted electronic billboard, and roof top sports fields, perhaps with lights. In many ways, these plans throw the City of Del Mar under the proverbial bus.
If you don’t think your comments matter, think again: once all this is built it will be with us practically forever. That’s how important your comments are. Express your opinion now, or forever hold your peace.

For the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority (JPA) a main bone of contention is the threatened state tidelands. That issue is barely addressed. Yet it is the defining issue.

The River Park believes that some or all of the land proposed for development may be on State Tidelands and filled wetlands. Much of the developed areas may have been filled without permits. And the proposed development, as is, will have significant impacts on public access, public views, traffic and natural resources, including the publicly-owned San Dieguito Lagoon and the river valley.
Because the Ag District is a state agency it does not have to comply with local zoning in the City of Del Mar or San Diego County . Sometimes we wonder if it believes it must comply with state law at all.

For me, the crux of the matter is this: as a state agency, the Ag District should be more concerned about wetlands restoration and about obeying state laws, not less.
Recently, I met with river park staff, Fran Gibson of Coastwalk, and Senator Christine Kehoe concerning the EIR. We do not wish to prevent the Ag District from careful, sensitive development. But we believe strongly that the EIR must provide careful analysis, take into account its neighbors, and offer alternatives that everyone can accept. We believe in partnership and working closely with the City of Del Mar, environmental groups and other regulatory agencies. I believe that the train platform must be in place before anything else.

The San Dieguito River glimmers like diamonds when the sun hits it just right. Ironically, the water and all that it stands for is worth more than diamonds. The river, the muddy river banks, and the pristine open land is old California at its best. It is home to thousands of fish and an important stopover along the migratory flyway. The San Dieguito River Park is the Yosemite of Southern California.

Indeed, when Southern California Edison completed its $90 million restoration of the river by opening a newly dredged area, the numbers of fish increased tenfold. As a result of this food source, the flocks of birds quadrupled. They are grateful to Edison, and so is the River Park JPA.

Paddock 1937. Courtesy Del Mar Historical Society.


Given a chance, land currently used for parking will restore itself back to the valuable wetlands it once was.

A plan proposed by Senator Kehoe that I strongly support along with the San Dieguito River Park staff, would provide a wide park, walking path and viewing area bordering one section of newly restored wetlands along the river.

This plan would bring thousands of locals and tourists to the area. Done correctly and in an environmentally-sensitive manner, it would tie in well with similar viewing areas in the South Bay .

I am urging citizens to get involved in this process. I am urging concerned environmental groups, and agencies to be involved. Whatever is built at the Fairgrounds today will either haunt us or make us proud for decades to come.
Send comment to the 22nd. District Agricultural Association, Attn: Dustin Fuller, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, CA 92014

See Also: Mission Forgotten
Dawn Rawls | Chair San Dieguito Lagoon Committee  Click here.


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