By Joe Tash
What a difference three years makes.
In 2010, then state Sen. Christine Kehoe introduced legislation requiring a 100-foot greenbelt and public trail along the north shore of the San Dieguito River, on Del Mar fairgrounds property.
Officials with the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the state-owned fairgrounds, opposed Kehoe’s bill, although they supported the concept of a green belt and trail along the river. Officials said the legislation was unnecessary, and would force them to create the greenbelt sooner than planned, impacting fairgrounds operations.
Now, with the 22nd DAA poised to begin construction of the trail and greenbelt, a fair board member is proposing to name the improvement for Kehoe.
“In my mind, no doubt, Sen. Kehoe in her legislative career has made substantial improvements to the natural environment we all enjoy,” said 22nd DAA board member Adam Day. “She was the original proponent of the 100-foot wetland buffer and I believe it’s appropriate to name the trail and buffer in her honor due to her numerous environmental accomplishments and dedication to the San Dieguito River and Lagoon.”
Day’s proposed resolution, naming the trail and wetland buffer for Kehoe, will be considered by the 22nd DAA board at its meeting on Dec. 17.
The resolution proposes installing signs along the trail with the legislator’s name.
“Throughout her decades of public service, Christine T. Kehoe has placed the protection of the environment and coastal resources as one of the most important priorities for her legislative agenda and annual funding proposals,” states the resolution.
“I’m really honored that they thought of me. But the most important thing is anybody will be able to walk along the river bank and enjoy the view and sunsets,” Kehoe said. “I think that’s really important for the future of San Diego, we’ll be able to enjoy that for many years to come.”
Kehoe said she respects the 22nd DAA board and staff, acknowledging that the two sides have sometimes disagreed on issues. As for Day’s proposal, following the district’s opposition to her 2010 bill, she said, “Life is full of surprises.”
Kehoe left the legislature in 2012 after serving eight years in the Senate and four years in the Assembly. Previously, she was a member of the San Diego City Council. She currently serves as executive director of the California Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative, which works to increase the number of plug-in electric vehicles on the state’s highways.
SB 1170, Kehoe’s bill to require the 100-foot greenbelt at the fairgrounds, was approved by the Senate, but did not pass the full Assembly, or make it to the governor’s desk for signature.
The new trail and greenbelt are part of a larger project, expected to cost between $5 million and $7 million, to restore the fairgrounds’ south overflow lot to natural wetlands habitat. The 9.5-acre dirt lot has in recent years been used by the 22nd DAA for parking during major events such as the San Diego County Fair and annual horse-racing meet.
Last month, the California Coastal Commission approved the restoration plan, which also allows the 22nd DAA to continue using its east overflow lot for parking and other activities for at least the next 10 years.
The new segment of trail will be part of the Coast to Crest trail, which will eventually stretch from Volcan Mountain near Julian, to the beach at Del Mar, a distance of 55 miles. A planned future segment will complete the trail from the fairgrounds to the beach.
Day said design work for the wetlands restoration project is completed, and work should begin soon.
“I’d like to see this up and built as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s a great way to restore it back to its original status, and as a magnet for people to explore the river and natural environment, and (see) the wildlife that inhabits the lagoon area.”