Solana Beach sues Fairgrounds over proposed arena

The $13 million proposal to transform the off-track betting center at the Del Mar Fairgrounds has ground to a halt, with the City of Solana Beach filing suit to force a lengthy environmental review.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association (DAA), which owns and operates the fairgrounds, has rebuffed suggestions that its vision for turning the struggling Surfside Race Place into a 1,900-seat amphitheater and 7,000-square-foot beer complex is subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Officials from Solana Beach and Del Mar pleaded with the DAA’s board of directors in May to take pause to consider the impacts to neighbors’ health and roadways from the 90 annual concerts and events, which they believe will be vastly more harmful than the impacts generated by the few hundred attendees who visit Surfside each day. The board dismissed those concerns and approved the plans on May 23, saying that the traffic and other impacts generated by the proposal will fall well within capacity approved 30 years ago.

The DAA had hoped to begin construction right away and open the facility as early as next summer.

But Solana Beach officials quietly sought judicial intervention, filing a civil complaint on June 23 in San Diego Superior Court.

In the complaint, Solana Beach City Attorney Johanna Canlas asks the court to halt the project, rescind the DAA’s May 23 approval and require CEQA review.

“The District’s failure to perform any environmental review of the Proposed Project, and its failure to provide a meaningful response to the environmental issues raised by the City, leaves the City with no alternative but to seek the assistance of the Court to compel the District to comply with the procedural and substantive requirements of CEQA,” the complaint reads.

The DAA had not filed a response as of Monday July 17.

Fairgrounds officials have pushed for the project to help buoy the ailing betting center, which has seen attendance plummet. They had hoped to open the facility as early as next summer and generate annual profits of between $1.2 million to $2 million. A CEQA review could push that timeline back by a year or more.

At its monthly meeting last week, the DAA board held an hour-long closed session to reconsider its May 23 decision. When the session returned to public session, the board made no comment and ended the meeting moments later.

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