State Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, is considering introducing legislation in January that would help turn a slice of concrete parking lot on the north side of the San Dieguito River by the fairgrounds into a protected greenway.
Kehoe said now is the time to establish such a greenway while the 22nd Agricultural District's master plan for improving the Del Mar Fairgrounds is currently under environmental review. The plan would add new exhibit halls, a condo-hotel and fitness center across the river, and Kehoe said it's important to preserve a meaningful buffer not only for wildlife but for public access as well.
"This beautiful lagoon is why we're here," Kehoe said during a press conference near the river on Dec. 2. "This is what San Diego's all about."
Kehoe said she supports the continued successful operation of the fairgrounds, race track and horse park but wants to protect the habitat.
About 30 local residents showed up to support Kehoe's plan as well as area politicians, including County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, Del Mar Mayor Crystal Crawford and Councilmen Donald Mosier, Carl Hilliard and Richard Earnest and Solana Beach City Council members Lesa Heebner and Dave Roberts.
Slater-Price said Kehoe has been instrumental in helping to save the San Dieguito River Valley.
"She's really becoming the queen of the river valley and we love that," Slater-Price said.
Kehoe's goal is for the greenway to be similar to what's on the south side of the river where a walking path leads through native plantings, with benches for reflection or bird watching, picnic tables for a riverside snack.
Kehoe said a state agency would have to determine the width of the buffer on the other side, but she hopes it would be wide enough for walkers, cyclists and strollers to safely get to the coast.
Mayor Crawford said she is looking forward to a successful project on the riverbed, as it has always been Del Mar's goal to preserve their valuable natural resources. Crawford specifically mentioned how well the lagoon restoration is going, with birds nesting and fish jumping.
"It just shows what can happen when you give nature a little chance to come back." Crawford said. "We have to keep working, spreading the word to impress how important it is to do this, to share nature and all its bounty with future generations."