Local residents enlist water engineering consultant to evaluate Del Mar Horsepark

The Del Mar fair board
The Del Mar fair board is considering contracting with someone to run the Del Mar Horsepark, a 64-acre equestrian facility about three miles east of the fairgrounds.
(San Diego Union-Tribune)

As the Del Mar Fairgrounds considers its options for Del Mar Horsepark, which closed this year due to water remediation issues that could have caused litigation, a few residents have launched an independent effort to better assess the costs to reopen.

Fairgrounds staff reported to board members who oversee the state-owned venue that the costs of resolving the water remediation issues are not yet known. During a Feb. 9 meeting, board members speculated that it would be a minimum of $3 million, but possibly up to $8 million or more. The board also decided at the meeting to consider turning Del Mar Horsepark over to an independent contractor who would reopen and operate Del Mar Horsepark, possibly taking on the prerequisite costs. Staff members will be vetting that idea.

Solana Beach resident Carla Echols-Hayes is part of a small group that has enlisted water engineering consultant Tory Walker, who will issue a report ahead of next month’s board meeting that better pinpoints the water remediation measures that need to be taken and how much they will cost. His services are being funded by a GoFundMe that has raised more than $5,000

The goal of the report is also to bolster the efforts of fairgrounds staff, which has been decimated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide a clearer financial picture for reopening Del Mar Horsepark, given the precarious financial situation at the fairgrounds after all the large events that have been canceled over the last year.

“They’re short-staffed, they don’t have a lot of people working there and they’ve got a lot of things on their plate right now,” Echols-Hayes said. “What we’re doing is finding them some cost-effective ways to remediate the water situation.”

The sudden closure of Del Mar Horsepark, located on 64 acres off the corner of Via de la Valle and El Camino Real, caught the local equestrian community off guard. Horse shows and boarding have been discontinued on the property. Boarders were given 90 days after the new year to relocate. There was no public notice before a fairgrounds news release in late December that mentioned the need to “meet water quality requirements for equestrian activities” enforced by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“We need to get horsepark reopened as soon as possible,” said Del Mar resident Laura DeMarco, who has also been involved in the effort to enlist Walker’s services. “It’s just been so disruptive and destructive for so many people.”

Fairgrounds board member Michael Gelfand, the chair of a Del Mar Horsepark Ad Hoc Committee, said during last week’s meeting that the committee “wants to figure out a way for horsepark to continue to serve the public and also meet the financial needs of the (22nd District Agricultural Association).”

“We do have a number of constraints at the property,” he said. “The obvious big one is the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s requirements for what we believe is about $3 million worth of improvements at a minimum to be able to have up to 500 horses.”

Board member G. Joyce Rowland also emphasized the need to more accurately assess the costs.

“I think until we know that, there’s a heck of a big difference between $2-3 million and $8-10 million, and that to me seems entirely determinative of what our options are going forward,” she said.