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Scrub Coastal Sage
John Gillies | San Dieguito Drive

Nancy Weare entangled in Coastal Sage Scrub.
Photo John Gillies.
Click on photo to enlarge.

When I heard that the City was holding a workshop on a trail project for the lots along San Dieguito Drive, I was elated. Most of the lots had been in public ownership for more than 20 years, and finally they would be restored to their original state of wetland, or so I thought. It turned out that plan called for creation of .36 acres of new coastal sage scrub (CSS) habitat as mitigation for the .18 acres of trails displacing the CSS that SoCal Edison had planted along the armored banks between the buildings and the river bank.

Nancy Weare, who began the decades long restoration of the Lagoon back in 1976, and I tried to persuade the Lagoon Committee to include wetland restoration in their plan, but alas, to no avail.

It seems they wanted the trail plan they had come up with, and a quick Coastal permit to assure use a $150,000 grant from the County, within the stipulated one year. Wetlands would be more expensive because of the required excavation, require permits from two more agencies, lengthening the approval process, and might mean a slightly less elaborate trail system.

Wetland vegetation is low lying and evergreen, promoting wide-open views and complementing the blue of the water. It is beautiful in this setting and native to it.
All of the San Dieguito properties used to be wetlands. Everything else around the Lagoon has or will be restored to wetland vegetation. Even the Fair Board after 25 years, has agreed to turn their south overflow lot into wetlands.

On the other hand, CSS is not native to these properties; we would expect to see it in inland canyons or on foothills. And it is not particularly beautiful. At its best in early spring, it tends to be grey green and brown with off white flowers. At the end of summer, much of it turns brown or completely dies back. And it is course and tall, which brings us to its major drawback. It grows to 5-6 feet in height when mature and will block many important views. And it is a protected habitat, so once planted, it is very difficult to replace.

Here is a section of it on one of the lots owned by Del Mar, as seen from the street. It was planted after the City bought and tore down a building on the property in 1992. Did you notice Nancy in the picture? The only water visible is in the upper right corner. The CSS is blocking a great view of the river and lagoon channels meeting.

Although the City Council moved the CSS back from the water’s edge, it declined to replace it with wetland, because of the cost and the extended review process. Now that the trail plan is before the Coastal Commission, we have an opportunity to forward a new plan, that would replace the coastal sage scrub with wetland and go looking for grants to make it happen.

If you like that idea, please email me at: DelMarWetland@gmail.com

Proposed CSS mitigation area map.
Click on map to enlarge.


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