By Karen Billing
The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board would like to have a seat at the table as future uses are discussed for the San Diego Polo Club fields, city-owned open space that is up for lease renewal in March. The city is beginning a process of sending out request for proposals (RFP) on the property as the polo club’s 26-year lease expires. The planning board backed a letter to the city written by the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority at a Feb. 1 special meeting.
The planning board was in favor of advocating for responsible use of the land due to its proximity to sensitive and protected habitats and also in favor of recreational uses like soccer being able to continue.
“We would like to have a voice as this process is ongoing,” said Jan Fuchs, co-chair of CVCPB’s regional issues subcommittee.
The city obtained the polo club land in the early 1980s as part of a deal for development of the nearby community of Fairbanks Ranch. The city received a total of 616 acres, most of which was used for construction of the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club, which is also leased by the city to the country club.
In addition to San Diego Polo Club play, the polo club fields are also the home base for San Diego Surf Soccer Club practices and the site of large, twice yearly Surf Cup tournaments that draw teams from all over the nation, in addition to international squads.
The fields have also played host to several lacrosse tournaments, such as the Adrenaline Challenge and Jam by the Sea, which is scheduled for April this year.
The polo club field is open to the public and frequently people are out walking, running, and throwing Frisbees on the land when polo is not in session. Canadian geese also congregate on the fields during the winter months.
Board member Anne Harvey said what they want to achieve is something that is green and accessible to the public. They don’t want to see permanent buildings or paving and, of course, be careful with lighting and noise for the surrounding neighbors.
“It’s our open space and we feel that’s the best use for us,” Harvey said.
Shawna Anderson, a San Dieguito River Park environmental planner, said the JPA requested that the RFP includes conditions so potential lessees understand the rules for future use. They requested that the RFP also include the language of the grant deed.
It’s a sensitive issue as the grant deed mandates that use of the property “not involve large assemblages of people and vehicles”— over the years, some have interpreted that to mean that soccer tournaments are not an intended use.
Planning board chair Frisco White said he would not support any restriction that eliminated soccer.
The board members had some concerns about the JPA’s proposed 100-foot buffer from the creek bed to the fields and whether it would impact the dimensions of a soccer field.
“To me, I think it’s excessive,” board member Victor Manoushakian said of the buffer.
Manoushakian said they had to respect what use has been happening on the fields for the last several years.
“We do feel like soccer could be accommodated with that buffer. Whether it looks like what they had in the past I don’t know and I doubt it,” Anderson said.
Chris Collins, director of the San Diego Polo Club, said most active uses are out of the 100-foot buffer but when they play polo, players are in and out of the edge.
For the most part the 100-foot buffer doesn’t go much past the public trail that runs along the edge of the property, he said.