Greenway retooled after negotiations with fairgrounds

Kehoe’s bill moves to assembly, 2014 completion date no longer required

Negotiations between Del Mar Fairgrounds executives and State Sen. Christine Kehoe and her staff have yielded both scheduling and structural changes to Kehoe’s proposed 100-foot wide greenway bill, which passed the State Senate last week.

The proposal still mandates that the 22nd District Agricultural Association develop and maintain a 100-foot wide environmental buffer to run along the west side of Jimmy Durante Boulevard, north of the San Dieguito River, but no longer with a deadline of 2014. The original bill’s 2014 deadline was meant to coincide with 22nd DAA assertions that 12 near-term master plan projects would be under construction within two years after the proposed expansion’s environmental impact report is certified, scheduled for this summer.

“The original bill was written to reflect what the agricultural district board was telling us at the time,” said Deanna Spehn, Kehoe’s policy director.

Now that the district officials conceded they have no immediate funding to begin construction, Spehn said the bill was adjusted to read that the greenway must be built “concurrently with or in advance of the near-term projects,” which include a 330-room condo-hotel and a new exhibit building.

District officials remain opposed to a greenway of that size, saying it would cause an extreme financial hardship. Spehn said the sdjusted bill renders those concerns “moot.”

Fairgrounds Chief Operating Officer Becky Bartling, who said she recently met with Spehn, said at Tuesday’s district board meeting that she had yet to hear of any changes to the original bill aside from not impacting the recycling center.

“At this point we’re still very strongly opposed to the bill as it’s written and hopefully we will see some modifications soon that we can take on and support,” she said publicly.

The fairgrounds master plan does include a greenway west of Jimmy Durante Boulevard, north of the river, but some stretches are as narrow as 30 feet. The district’s CEO, Tim Fennell, has said the greenway, as represented in the original bill, would cause the fairgrounds to have to prematurely move its lucrative recycling center. He also says that the pathway would remove a vital access road for both emergency vehicles and the ability to load its exhibit halls, which hold more than 100 annual events.

The bottom line, Fennell said, would be difficulty paying off the district’s annual $4.8 million bond debt.

Spehn said the greenway bill approved by the state Senate was adjusted so it wouldn’t affect the access road and it does not require the 22nd DAA to move the recycling center or service yards before implementing the master plan, which already calls for relocating these areas.

The 22nd DAA had calculated costs of $1.8 million to relocate the recycling center and $8 million to move the service yards.

The bill still, however, requires the state-owned fairgrounds to remove construction equipment and other dirt fill stored on the northern edge of the San Dieguito River to allow continued restoration by the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority and the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy.

The greenway would ensure access along the river, not only for pedestrians and bikers, but to preserve its natural habitat and setting. Kehoe, D-San Diego, has said this is not only important given fairgrounds’ master plan for expansion, but also because of the prospect of the Governor’s office selling the property to make up for a roughly $19 billion state budget deficit.

District officials estimate the greenway itself would cost $1.3 million to construct. Spehn said there would be grants available to offset the cost, and that Kehoe would personally assist the fairgrounds in obtaining them.

The greenway bill, SB 1177, now moves to the state Assembly side, and will next be heard by its agricultural committee at a date not yet announced.

Related posts:

  1. Kehoe’s fairgrounds greenway bill clears Senate
  2. Size of river greenway negotiable
  3. Kehoe introduces greenway bill
  4. Fair board worries greenway would pose safety threat
  5. Greenway bill moves ahead

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