200 take steps at rally to save river boardwalk from removal
In an effort to save a popular boardwalk that runs along the San Dieguito River, elected officials and community members gathered March 21 to protest the California Coastal Commission’s vote that could require the removal of the structure.
With a 5-5 vote at its March 11 meeting, the commission denied a request from the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority to allow the boardwalk to remain in its location next to the river on the south side of the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
“We hope to show the Coastal Commission how much this boardwalk means to the community,” said Trish Boaz, executive director of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, which organized the rally and hike. The nonprofit is dedicated to sustaining the natural resources of the San Dieguito watershed.
“It would be a shame to have this boardwalk removed after all of the work the volunteers put in to build it,” she said. “It brings so much enjoyment to the public.”
More than 200 people from Del Mar, Solana Beach and surrounding communities participated in the rally and hiked the 1,200-foot-long boardwalk.
Holding a 20-foot-long “Save the Boardwalk” banner, several elected officials joined the efforts, including San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts, Del Mar councilmen Don Mosier, Terry Sinnott and Dwight Worden, and Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner and councilmen Peter Zahn and David Zito.
“The Coastal Commission, in my humble opinion, got it wrong,” said Roberts, who serves on the JPA Board. “I have asked that they reconsider their decision. Factual information was not provided to the full Coastal Commission, and they need to relook at this issue.”
Built in 2007 with $354,000 in grants and hundreds of volunteer hours, the boardwalk sits on land owned by the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the state-owned fairgrounds.
In order to settle a longstanding dispute with state regulatory agencies, the 22nd DAA agreed to restore the dirt lot under the boardwalk to wetlands. As part of the restoration project, commission staff requested the boardwalk be relocated further north to the outer edge of the wetlands, next to Jimmy Durante Boulevard.
Commission staff contends that the boardwalk impedes water flow in the restored wetlands. Relocating it would also allow an additional acre of wetlands to be restored, staff said.
“My heart was in my throat,” said Boaz about the commission’s tie vote. “I was stunned. I could not believe they would vote to take out this boardwalk. This is how we get people to appreciate and learn about wetlands and the entire watershed.”
Del Mar, Solana Beach, the 22nd DAA, the JPA and the conservancy all want the structure to remain in place, as it gives visitors an up-close look at the lagoon, promotes conservation and encourages exercise.
“This trail is very, very much a part of the community fabric,” said former County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. “This was built by the community, it serves the community and it needs to be made available to the community.”
“Boardwalks are a great way for human beings to interact with nature without disturbing nature,” added Eric Lodge, vice president of the conservancy’s board of directors.
“If people can’t enjoy it, they won’t appreciate it and won’t support it in the future.”
Although the Heatherington family from Mission Bay was on site in protest of the boardwalk, the majority of the community wants to save the structure. As of March 23, nearly 1,300 people have signed the conservancy’s online petition at www.change.org.
At the rally, the conservancy also debuted its “Save the Boardwalk” app. Created at no cost by Encinitas-based McLeod Media, the app allows the conservancy to update users on the issue.
A number of local leaders support the community’s efforts to petition the commission to reconsider its decision.
The JPA is the agency responsible for creating natural open space parks in the San Dieguito River Valley. On March 20, the JPA Board voted 6-1 to pursue reconsideration of the commission’s decision. Board member and San Diego council president Sherri Lightner cast the sole dissenting vote.
The JPA plans to appeal the commission’s decision by April 11.
“We’re going to pull out all the stops to appeal this bad decision,” said Mosier, chairman of the JPA Board. “This is going to be a real fight. It’s a long shot, but sometimes the little guy wins.”
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