Dwight Worden | Sea View Avenue
Cartoon from the Sandpiper archives
FAIRGROUNDS MASTER PLAN: WHAt NOW?
The comment period on the draft EIR for the fairgrounds Master Plan closed last month. Here is a brief rundown on what can be expected to happen next.
Hopefully, the District will tabulate all the comments received and post them on their website. This will allow everyone to see the comments of others. So far the District has not posted a list of the commenters or the comments, although they have been asked to do so by Jacqueline Winterer. If this information is posted then everyone who has an interest in the Master Plan can and should review all of the comments as I’m sure there are many issues raised. For example, I know that at least two environmentally superior alternatives were presented, one by Bill Lewis and one by the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy prepared by its consultant (which were both reviewed in the March Sandpiper).
On the District’s end, they will be reviewing all of the comments and preparing to respond. California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) law requires that the District respond to all important substantive comments. Typically, the issues are identified and then organized by category, with just one response to each category. So, for example, if 10 people commented on the view impacts of the project it can be expected that there would be one response, not a separate response to each of the 10 commenters except to the extent the issues raised differ. Typically, the District staff and technical consultants would do this analysis of comments received and would prepare draft responses. When the responses are approved these final responses will be released and will become part of the final EIR.
In the process of reviewing and preparing to respond to comments CEQA contemplates that the District would make revisions in the proposed project, adopt alternatives, or make other changes that are appropriate based on the comments received to mitigate or reduce environmental impacts. The extent to which the Fair Board will take the comments seriously and be willing to incorporate project changes remains to be seen. If the changes and revisions are significant then the District will need to revise and recirculation the draft EIR, essentially starting over. If there are no changes, or if the changes are minor, then the Fair Board has options for making some revisions to the EIR and Master Plan and proceeding forward.
The final EIR, including responses to comments and any project revisions, can then be presented to the Fair Board for the board to “certify” the EIR as complete and in compliance with CEQA and to approve the Master Plan. The scope of any public hearing and opportunity for input at this time is primarily up to the Fair Board, although certification of the EIR and approval of the Master Plan will have to be on the Fair Board agenda and voted on at a public meeting. And, if the project proposed for approval has significant, unmitigated environmental impacts, it cannot be approved unless the Fair Board makes specific findings that further mitigation is not feasible, or makes “overriding” findings that the project should be approved notwithstanding its negative impacts.
If the Fair Board certifies the EIR and approves the Master Plan the statute of limitations will start running for legal challenge to these actions. There may also be further approvals and permits required from the Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission, Army Corp of Engineers, City of Del Mar, City of San Diego, and from the state agencies that oversee Fair Board operations before the Master Plan can be implemented. And, the District’s ability to implement that Master Plan will depend on its finances.
So, there is much that remains before the Master Plan becomes reality. Hopefully, the Fair Board will proceed through these many steps in a collaborative and open process.