Local residents react to stronger enforcement of Del Mar Mesa Preserve trails use

Del Mar Mesa Preserve

By Joe Tash

A cat-and-mouse game has unfolded in recent months between mountain bikers, joggers and hikers who enjoy using trails in the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, and state wardens who are handing out trespassing warnings and tickets.

Much of the 866-acre preserve has been posted off-limits for the past five years; but over the past couple of months, a $104,000 allocation from the San Diego Association of Governments has provided overtime pay to California Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens to patrol the mesa and other “hot spots” around the county, ticketing violators of habitat protection laws.  In at least one case, a mountain bike belonging to a repeat violator was confiscated.

The preserve — south of State Route 56 and west of Camino Del Sur — was intended by city officials to serve as an oasis for rare and endangered plants and animals amid the encroachment of surrounding development.  Trail users say they also want to protect the preserve’s biological resources, but the trails have been in use for decades, and don’t cause undue harm to the environment.

For now, the vast majority of the preserve remains off-limits to humans, with the exception of about a mile of utility access road maintained by San Diego Gas & Electric Co.  Signs and fencing delineate the unauthorized areas.  A long-awaited habitat management plan that includes a trails element would open up some seven miles’ worth of additional trails once it is adopted by the San Diego City Council.

Andrew Kubik, a mountain biker and local attorney who has closely followed the trails issue, took issue with the recent “hard line” enforcement approach, and questioned why it has taken the city so long to approve the trails plan.

In spite of tight government budgets, “Somehow they’re finding resources to criminalize recreation by local residents,” he said.

On a recent Saturday morning, bike riders and hikers said more education about which sensitive areas to avoid — and not the issuance of tickets — is the best way to protect the preserve.

“I don’t think that’s the way to achieve their goal,” said mountain biker Juan Ospina of Banker’s Hill.

“I think it’s stupid,” said Greg Price of Mira Mesa, who was walking his two dogs on the SDGE access road, of the stepped-up enforcement. “Just walking along the trail is not going to disturb the animals.  They’re existing trails, an existing resource, why not use it?”

Erik Basil, an attorney and founding member of the Multi-Use Trails Coalition, was even more blunt in his assessment.

Those targeted with citations aren’t building fires or illegally dumping on the land, but, “only people trying to enjoy one of the last places the city hasn’t allowed to be bulldozed,” Basil said.  “It’s shooting fish in a barrel.  All the criminals they get to chase down are people wearing Spandex.”

“The law-abiding public are prevented from accessing our public lands due to the inaction of the city and the brutal tactics of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife,” Basil said.

The dark portions shown on the map above of the Del Mar Mesa Preserve show the off-limit areas.

The city is trying to accommodate recreational users, but, “We have an obligation to manage areas like this for wildlife purposes first and recreation second,” said Chris Zirkle, the city’s deputy director of Parks and Recreation.

The preserve is considered a core biological area and “includes a very rich diversity of plants and animals that are rare, threatened and endangered,” Zirkle said.  Those plants and animals include fairy shrimp that live in vernal pools, California gnatcatchers, horned lizards, Del Mar manzanita trees, short-leaved dudleya, wart-stemmed ceanothus and Orcutt’s brodiaea, a perennial herb that produces a purple flower.

That said, Zirkle supports recreational use of the preserve.  “I firmly believe legal use deters illegal use,” he said.

While some in the mountain biking community may be convinced the preserve will eventually be developed, and therefore they might as well enjoy the trails unhampered until then, he said the city has a long-term commitment to maintaining the preserve as open space.  “This is not going to get paved,” he said.

He conceded that several years ago the city underestimated the amount of recreational use and an earlier version of the proposed resource management plan failed to include trails.

“There was a righteous uproar, people were not happy,” he said. The city reworked the plan and a current version calls for 7.9 miles of recreational trails, including two “tunnels” trails that are especially popular with mountain bikers because they twist and turn beneath a canopy of oak boughs.  Some 13.2 miles of trails would remain off-limits.

The city has held a series of public meetings, and most recently, completed an archaeological study of the preserve.  As part of the habitat management and trails plan, the Del Mar Mesa Community Plan will also be amended, Zirkle said.

The next steps are to release the draft plan for public comment, then take the final plan to both the Planning Commission and the City Council.

“I hope that it is (approved) early next year,” Zirkle said.

In the meantime, state wardens will continue to enforce the current access restrictions, said Lt. Mike Ference of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Ference said multiple cameras installed in early summer in the preserve by Sandag documented 1,600 trespassing violations over a four-week period.

“It was so out of control something had to be done and that’s kind of why we were brought in,” Ference said.

Wardens began stepped-up enforcement in late July, said Ference, and since then have recorded 283 contacts on Del Mar Mesa, along with issuing 122 citations and 75 warnings.  Anecdotally, trail users have complained of tickets for as much as $475, but Ference said a simple trespassing ticket carries a $50 fine.  The penalty may be higher for those caught in a fenced, highly sensitive biological area, or who attempt to flee from the wardens, Ference said.

Ference said he’s been surprised both by the “sense of entitlement” by some users in spite of the “no trespassing” signs, and the willingness of mountain bikers to flee in an effort to avoid a ticket.  Wardens have caught high-ranking military officers, airline pilots and doctors trying to get away, he said.

The riders see CDFW peace officer who try to stop them, “and they will just take off on their bike and so we have to chase them,” he said.

Wardens also confiscated the mountain bike of one man who had been contacted and warned to stay out of closed areas, “and he did it again,” Ference said.

Keith Greer, a senior planner with SANDAG, said the current contract with CDFW is set to end this month, but is expected to be renewed.

As the trails plan works its way through the city bureaucracy, Basil said his group is asking the city to immediately open the designated trails on a trial basis as a “show of good faith.”

The Multi-Use Trails Coalition believes the trails should be open to all non-motorized traffic, including bikers, hikers and equestrians, Basil said.  “We believe the trails are for everyone.”

Related posts:

  1. Special meeting on Del Mar Mesa Preserve trails plan to be held Oct. 19
  2. Number of usable Del Mar Mesa Preserve trails under debate
  3. Del Mar Mesa board elects directors, officers of Friends of Del Mar Mesa Preserve
  4. Carmel Valley planners recommend approval of management plan for local preserves/trails — with conditions
  5. Plan for trail system still on hold

Short URL: http://www.delmartimes.net/?p=58172

Posted by Staff on Oct 10, 2013. Filed under Carmel Valley, Del Mar, News, Solana Beach, carmel valley. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

16 Comments for “Local residents react to stronger enforcement of Del Mar Mesa Preserve trails use”

  1. Bobmackie

    “All the criminals they get to chase down are people wearing Spandex.” – well, people wearing spandex is a crime, so I’m all for ticketing them.

  2. Aaron

    What the article failed to mention is that this “pristine” environment was once a huge camp for migrant workers complete with tents, shacks, stoves, irrigation, pot plans, hookers, and about 2 tons of garbage. You know who cleaned all that crap up? Mountain bikers, not runners, not hikers, not equestrians, mountain bikers. SDMBA removed dumpsters full of trash at no cost to taxpayers. What thanks to we get? Tickets and lies. We were lied to about who placed the cameras. We were told they were a college students wildlife study. Now we have the same type of enforcement going on at Mission trails where several trails have been recently closed. We already had hundreds of acres of Del Mar Mesa bulldozed to build multi-million dollar homes. If the parks department alienates all the stakeholders who want to enjoy this land there will be nobody to defend it when the developers start spreading the money around to our corrupt officials in a bid to develop more.

    • Frank Landis

      This is the founding myth of the Tunnels, that six years ago, the bikers cleaned out tons of garbage, and therefore they own it.

      Unfortunately, this is not true. The land is not Mello-Roos parkland, it is mitigation land set aside to compensate for destruction when Highway 56 was built, when the Westview mall was built it, and when many of the local developments were built. It was set aside for conservation, and it would be another subdivision but for this inconvenient truth.

      Unlike almost all the current cyclists, I’m in there every week picking up trash and weeding as a Parks volunteer, and I’ve been doing this for years. I’ll be happy when the trails plan is approved next spring (plan comes out in January).

      But people have to realize that every single oak in there is a sensitive species, that their favorite trail loop sends them riding right over endangered button celery and fairy shrimp, and that there is no other place for these plants and animals to live left in the Carmel Valley, other than Carmel Mountain, which is more degraded. The California Native Plant Society has been working to document the flora of Del Mar Mesa, and so far we’ve found three species (two lichens and a liverwort) that are so far unidentified and may be new species. If they are, Del Mar Mesa may well be the only place they still exist. Why care? Lichens are one source of new cancer medicines, and rare species often contain unusual compounds.

      Del Mar Mesa faces two problems: one is the misplaced sense of entitlement that the riders have. To be very blunt, too many act like they own the place, and they do not. It is a community center, where people need to learn to share the space and not place their own desires first. The second problem is that it is, despite all disturbance it has experienced, an intact ecosystem. Plants and animals live there, and their lives are disrupted by cyclists and dogwalkers. Unlike recreating humans, they have no other place to go, and if they are trampled (an annual occurrence) they die.

      This is ultimately the question everyone has to ask themselves: is having their fun worth harassing, damaging, or killing rare species, including species that may live nowhere else? Most sane people would answer no, and I’m hoping everyone reading this is sane. If, like me, you think that it’s a good idea to give wild species a small place to live their lives, then hopefully you’ll also join me in taking care of Del Mar Mesa, rather than spewing vitriol whenever anyone asks you not to ride in a certain place or at a certain time.

  3. Miles

    Fish and game endangered the lives of many hikers and riders as some foolish testosterone driven warden, drove his truck at a very high rate of speed down the legal power lines road after a scary spandex wearing criminal on sunday, sept 29th. He was sliding around blind turns in his truck after a biker!! Hello… He was endangering the public and for what?? Good job guys!! Glad my niece wasn’t killed that day by you!!!

  4. cliff

    Aaron hit the nail on the head- where was the vehement opposition ten years ago when it was infested with rubbish, camp sites and people living in the “habitat protected” area? It seems the rules of enforcement only apply to taxpayers (pilots, doctors, lawyers), not illegal aliens. I wonder if Fish and Game is paid a bonus per ticket issued…

  5. Hal

    Typical wealthy, arrogant attitude towards our laws. Mountain Bikers are notorious for being self serving, and pretend to care about protecting sensitive areas. Truly hope the wardens and rangers continue to protect these areas in our County, Keep up the Good Work!

    • Jeff

      Don’t vilify mountain bikers. Where were you when Pardee developed all the new housing? And how are the lands being protected by having trucks driving all over the Vernal Pools?

  6. Bob Loblaw

    Fish and Wildlife (formerly Fish and Game, but that isn’t P.C.) has been taken over by enviro-nazis that don’t want anyone to fish or hunt. Or jog, hike and ride bicycles, apparently. They forget whose land it is, and who pays their salary. Write to your representatives about this travesty!

  7. Frank Landis

    “On a recent Saturday morning, bike riders and hikers said more education about which sensitive areas to avoid — and not the issuance of tickets — is the best way to protect the preserve.”

    What a lovely idea: park rangers and CNPS volunteers have been trying it for years. Signs get vandalized within a week, stones placed around the edges of vernal pools are deliberately thrown into vernal pools, and cyclists ride through the pools, some of them on the theory (given to me by one teenager) that if they destroy all the vernal pools, they’ll be allowed to ride wherever they want.

    Most people don’t realize that the average lifespan of any non-metallic sign on Del Mar Mesa is at most five days. I’ve spent years as a volunteer trying to keep signage in repair, and I can’t. If you stop to look at any of the posts you ride by, you’ll see masses of staples and zip ties that are the remnants of my efforts. If you look at the east end of Tunnel 1, you’ll see the holes where berserk cyclists have ripped metal signs out of the ground and stolen them.

    So yes, I’d LOVE to have more education on Del Mar Mesa I’d love to do more education up there, because it really is a wonderful place.. Unfortunately, the only way this is going to work is if the mountain biking community takes a harsh stand against vandalism. Too many people keep their mouths shut and ride past obviously vandalized signs, ride through pools and then lie when they have mud all over their tires. If you want more signage, stop making excuses and start shaming the vandals. They’re giving every single one of you a bad reputation, but I have yet to hear a single rider say that the vandalism is bad and it should be stopped.

  8. joseph

    firstly, a vey nice article mr. tash, allowing room for debate.

    secondly, a (very) little math: i once calculated that the total area of all trails requested in the SDMBA proposition was about 1/10 of 1% of the area of the preserve. bikers and joggers stay on trial so the environmental impact needs to be viewed with these numbers in mind. furthermore, migrants originated much of the trails system and had maybe 5x the amount of trails in total (many of which were short,dead ends). this to was documented and presented by samba. no one is requesting bulldozing new trails systems into an envionmentally sensitive area.

    thirdly: “I firmly believe legal use deters illegal use”, chris zirkle. considering such a small fraction of the overall area of the impacted, and that as been shown in every park in a highly populated area, some form of recreation can help with preservation. it is to deny this concept to maintain the present hostile and confrontational course.

    fourthly, even mr landis may be looking forward to an opening, as he should, for the above reason as well as a buy-in by the user groups. la costa trails is a shining example of how trails and the environment can co-exist with the volunteer help of the user groups under guidance of rangers and enviro persons.

    lastly, straw man statements as presented by mr landis, “This is the founding myth of the Tunnels, that six years ago, the bikers cleaned out tons of garbage, and therefore they own it.” are patently untrue for the sole purpose of mr landis painting a negative image. the area was cleared of debris, broken bottles, batteries whose acid leeches into the soil and water, etc, for preservation purposes. none of this debris interfered with riding or running the trails.

  9. Matt Bartelt

    Frank Landis Quote

    What a lovely idea: park rangers and CNPS volunteers have been trying it for years. Signs get vandalized within a week, stones placed around the edges of vernal pools are deliberately thrown into vernal pools, and cyclists ride through the pools, some of them on the theory (given to me by one teenager) that if they destroy all the vernal pools, they’ll be allowed to ride wherever they want.


    “Berserck cyclists”? Really? Let’s be mature about this and leave the name calling for the playgrounds.

    I agree the signs should be left alone. Lets be very clear about the official signs though. They are not informative, rather prohibitive. They only say “stay on trail” and “no entry” There is no education going on at the DMM via signage. I challenge you to produce proof otherwise, and a homemade sign is not what I am talking about.

    If you rely on the quotes of a teenager for proof you truly do not understand the community or the overall beliefs. Kids will be kids. They throw stones, they break thing, they are, by nature, immature.

    There are also bad apples out there, but the majority are valid users (read bike, hiker, and equestrian). There are many that do not understand the vernal pools and the life they support. It is unfortunate that the damage happens. Claiming it is all done with malicious intent is a huge stretch of what is really happening there. In order for all of this to work, there has to be a harmonious balance between the user’s needs and the need for preservation. The property will always have incursions whether allowed or not. It is surrounded on all sides by community housing. Entitlement or not, it will see use.

    So, how do you manage it? Don’t lock the doors and say “stay out or else”. That is a plan that will and is failing. You need to embrace the community that will use it. You need a valid signage plan that explains the need of the habitat, much like the signs along the main south trail of the PQ canyon, just west of the waterfall. You need to allow access. You need specific plant and lichen identifier plaques that explain the importance of them.

    Reach out to local BSA troops. They are always looking for projects and can help with kiosks and signage. Hold community events that allow the users to explore the habitat and understand as well as create a “trickle down education” that they can pass along. This needs to be a long term plan. The misunderstanding and entitlement cannot and will not be fixed overnight. It will take time but it can be done.

    The users (hikers, bikers, and equestrians) are not the enemy you want to vilify us as. We are the group that can successfully create the environment for the DMM to flourish.

  10. Frank Landis

    @Matt Barlett:

    Unfortunately, I can’t post pictures, or I would show you the damage to the vernal pool that is most central to the issue of which trails to open (it is on the mesa top between Tunnels 3 and 4). The majority of bike tracks in the mud are through the pool (which annually contains fairy shrimp) and on the north side, where they go over a patch of federally endangered button celery. There’s also side trail (built two years ago) that runs through another button celery patch north onto the mesa, and it gets reopened every time I try to brush it closed .

    On the south side of that same pool, there’s actually a path where cyclists can ride around the pool while keeping their tires mostly dry and away from the button celery, and I’ve posted the location of this path (with a cyclist using it) on the SDMBA board. Unfortunately, the safe path does not show nearly the amount of track marking. The conclusion I take from this is that people are deliberately riding through the most critical pool, rather than around it. The evidence supports the teenager, I’m afraid.

    Two years ago, the rangers and I tried lining this vernal pool with rocks and posting a sign saying, in effect, please ride around this pool. It was repeatedly vandalized, and none of the stones are there now, and the rangers removed the marker after it was repeatedly vandalized. Again, I take this for evidence that people deliberately vandalize pools.

    It’s too bad, and I truly mean this. Two years ago, I was hoping that cyclists would step up, show some courtesy, and ride around vernal pools. If they had done so, I would have gone to Parks with this evidence and lobbied for Tunnel 3 to be opened (it is slated to be closed). Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of vandalism since then, and it’s too bad. Tunnel 3 is a glorious trail for walking and riding, but it’s going to be closed in part because cyclists were unwilling to be responsible and obey signs.

    Admittedly, I’ve seen some good citizenship, and I want to praise the riders and runners who obey the no trespassing signs and who go around the pools. Balanced against that, I see trains of cyclists going past the signs every week, and I’ve seen tracks in the pool mud every time we have a rain storm.

    Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about public education until the City Council has approved the trails plan. Trust me: once that happens, we’ll definitely have a lot of education going on. Until then, I’m stuck, along with everyone else, dealing with this mess.

  11. David Lague

    Firstly, using generalized terms such as “cyclists” is inaccurate and simply contributes to “noncyclists” lumping the occasional idiot in with everyone else who enjoys riding a mountain bike. I grew up in San Diego and now live in the Bay area. I believe that a great degree of the stupid behavior such as riding thru the vernal pools would be vastly improved with an agreed upon legal trail system.

    The area’s in the Bay area such as the UC Santa Cruz campus which do not have legal trail system suffer from “vandalism” and the building of unsustainable or “rogue” trails. The area’s such as the midpeninsula area which have legal riding have very little of this activity. Also the selfish and ignorant individuals who are the main issue here seem to be kept in line by the majority of responsible cyclists.

    In reading the posts online it seems to me that perhaps the main issue here is the incredibly inappropriate length of time taken in getting the trail system “authorized.” It seems that this has contributed to much frustration, anger and name calling, it may also contribute to some of the spiteful vandalism and actions of “a minority of cyclists.”

    Again, I lived in San Diego for almost 40 years and still come down every christmas. I have watched the western end of Del Mar Mesa fall under the bulldozers with the building of more construction. Obviously the endangered species and vernal pools are not important enough to keep the developers under control. I believe many trail users see this obvious contradiction between the so called protectors of the environment and the ability of the developers to build wherever they like as a reason to ignore the officials who are putting up the signs and preventing what they consider their right to use public lands. Yes, there are valid environmental concerns. However I believe the trail users are more perceptive then government official give them credit for. Money talks, public needs and concerns walk.

    Mr Landis seems to generally care for this open land. However his enemy is not the trail users. It is the glacial pace of the approval of the trail plan. Every month that passes decreases the general respect for the city councils competence and contributes to an “anything goes” mentality, and also increases the incidence of the poor behavior by trail users. It is very likely that the adoption of a fair trail plan will result in natural pressures, cultural and otherwise, that will decrease the vandalism and make protection of the vulnerable pools and species more effective. This has been proven in other environmentally sensitive area’s. In Marin county, one of the birthplaces of mountain biking, it is illegal to ride a majority of the singletrack. The result is widespread “poaching” of these trails, tickets, fines and hence more blatantly poor behavior by trail users. There is no mystery here, this type of heavy handed enforcement DOES NOT WORK. It just makes things worse, more anger, more frustration, more feelings of self entitlement etc.

  12. Aaron

    Frank fails to mention that studies have shown that the shrimp thrive in pools that are regularly disturbed. He also fails to mention that these vernal pools would not exist were it not for the trucks and atv’s that created them which by the way are now restricted. His intent seems to be to villify bikers because of the actions of a few.

  13. John

    I used to ride through the tunnels area and on the Mesa regularly. I distinctly remember seeing giant vehicle tracks through these vernal pools. The only vehicles authorized by the city to be up there are park rangers (I don’t think they drive through the vernal pools) and SDG&E Trucks. I really hope SDG&E is getting fined for destroying this precious reserve.

    As a mountain biker, I would avoid these pools. I would even pick my bike up to walk around them. Mountain bikes don’t like water – it causes rust and is expensive to fix. I also remember seeing some trails absolutely destroyed by horses. I’m not saying restrict the horse owners, but it’s only fair to recognize who damages what – like the SDG&E truck drivers.

    “The Tunnels” area is one of the reasons I decided to stay in San Diego permanently. I thought, how great is it that the city has an area where I can be outdoors and get my exercise in while mountain biking 25 minutes from my house! But the tunnels have been taken away. Now East Elliot at Mission Trails Park has been taken away.

    I didn’t make much money when I moved here. Now I have a six figure salary, and I’m reconsidering which state I want to pay my taxes in. If I’m going to pay through the nose in taxes, I’d like to think I’m receiving something back from the city or state for my troubles. After 30 years in California, I don’t know if I can put up with more BS regulations to protect something just long enough for a developer to write a big enough check to the city and pave right over it.

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