Two Del Mar Fairgrounds legal disputes may be on the verge of settlement

By Joe Tash

Two contentious legal issues that have dogged the Del Mar Fairgrounds for years — one an allegation of Coastal Act violations by the state officials and the other a lawsuit filed by neighboring jurisdictions  over plans for redeveloping the fairgrounds — may both be on the verge of settlement.

The proposed settlements were announced Wednesday night (Feb. 15) by Adam Day, president of the board of directors of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, the entity that runs the state-owned fairgrounds.

According to Day, the board voted unanimously in closed session to approve two settlement agreements, one with the California Coastal Commission and the other with the cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach and the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority.

The 22nd DAA has agreed to spend about $5 million over the next five years on a series of environmental measures to settle its dispute with the Coastal Commission which spans more than a decade, said Day.

Details of the lawsuit settlement have not yet been made public.

In an interview, Day characterized the potential settlements as “monumental,” and said they indicate the fair board’s willingness to set aside past differences and establish better working relationships with other governmental agencies.

“I’m hopeful this will be the start of the new era of close collaboration and cooperation between our district and the Coastal Commission and surrounding cities and residents of the region,” Day said.  “This new board wants to start fresh, and with these actions, we’re putting our money where our mouth is, literally and figuratively.”

The nine-member, unpaid 22nd DAA board is appointed by the governor.  Last year, incoming Gov. Jerry Brown dismissed five board members and appointed five new members.  Wednesday’s vote on the settlements came one day after new board member Tom Chino resigned, citing his inability to pass reforms in the operations of the fair board to make its work more transparent and open to the public.

The proposed settlement with the Coastal Commission was negotiated over the past six weeks by Day and fair board member David Watson, working with Coastal Commission staff, said Day.  The Coastal Commission is scheduled to consider the proposed settlement at its March 8 meeting in Chula Vista.

Among the actions agreed to by the fair board as part of the settlement are:

•Restoring the entire south overflow lot at the fairground to wetlands, meaning a loss of about 1,500 parking spaces during major events such as the San Diego County Fair and Del Mar horse races.

•Restoring a 100-foot wetlands buffer along the southern edge of the south and east overflow lots and the golf driving range.

•Construction of a portion of the Coast to Crest Trail (which is planned to run from the beach at Del Mar to the mountains near Julian) and a buffer along the southern and western edges of the fairgrounds property.

•Removal of concrete rip-rap from the north shore of the San Dieguito River and restoration of the area.

•Paying the River Park JPA $20,000 per year for five years to maintain the newly restored wetlands and buffer areas.

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