By Marlena Chavira-Medford
Plans to redevelop the Del Mar Fairgrounds moved one step closer to happening Monday, April 18, when the 22nd District Agricultural Association (22nd DAA) board certified a master plan that spells out some major changes to the property.
During a public meeting held on the property, 22nd DAA board members voted to certify the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the 2008 Master Plan, which includes replacing the 50-year old exhibit halls, widening the turf track, and adding a health club, a parking facility and an electronic reader board sign.
The 22nd DAA board members also voted to eliminate a proposed hotel-condo from the plan, which had spurred strong outcry from surrounding communities and conservation agencies that claimed it was too much development for a property so close to fragile wetlands. Board members also modified the plan to include a 100-foot greenway buffer between the San Dieguito River and the new exhibit halls. The board also agreed to hold public meetings to discuss the design of major developments on the property, such as the reader board sign and the exhibit halls.
The master plan has been in the works for more than a decade and has been met with steady resistance, as was evidenced during the April 18 meeting. Several public officials and group representatives at the local, regional, and state levels came out to speak against the project including: Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner, Del Mar councilman Carl Hilliard, San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, Senator Christine Kehoe’s policy director Deanna Spehn, San Diego City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner representative Stephen Heverly, and Carmel Valley planning board member Anne Harvey. City staff from Solana Beach and Del Mar also publicly spoke about their concerns with the FEIR, as did spokespeople from the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy and the San Diego Sierra Club. Dozens of Solana Beach, Del Mar, Carmel Valley and Rancho Santa Fe residents also attended the meeting and addressed the 22nd DAA board, many of them sporting stickers that read “Save Our Fairgrounds from Over Development.”
Speaker after speaker stated that the FEIR did not adequately address the project’s impacts on traffic, noise or pollution. Nearly every speaker also urged the board to extend the review period for the FEIR. The public had 10 days to review the more than 1,000-page FEIR, which is the legal minimum required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). That means the average person would have to read about 150 pages a day.
“What’s the hurry,” asked Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner. “Yes, you did meet your legal requirement — but it seems you are intentionally excluding the public from participation.”
Del Mar resident Bud Emerson echoed those thoughts, stating that residents felt duped by the lack of review time.
“We feel victimized by what’s going on,” he told the board. “You need to adopt a good neighbor policy. What you’re doing is affecting the quality of our lives. We want you to win, but it’s got to be a collaborative process.”
The 22nd DAA board later responded, pointing out that it had granted a 120-day review period for the first draft of the EIR, which is 75 days more than the CEQUA requirement.
“A delay at this point would cause a whole new loop in the process and would not benefit us or the community,” said 22nd DAA board president Barry Nussbaum.
The 22nd DAA will now file its FEIR with the county clerk’s office. As soon as that happens, there will be a 30-day period during which someone can challenge it by bringing legal action.
The California Coastal Commission and other responsible state agencies, such as the California Fish and Game Department and the Race Track Leasing Commission, will still have to approve the plan.
22nd DAA board member and Del Mar resident Kim Fletcher ended the meeting saying he hopes that the community will see that many concessions and edits were made to the master plan based on resident input, mainly the removal of the hotel-condo. He added that he hopes this modified master plan will be a way to finally burry the hatchet.
“Let’s all be happy and good neighbors,” he told the audience.