Ag. board cuts off cooperation with Del Mar in possible environmental litigation settlement


By Claire Harlin

The 22nd District Agricultural Association is suspending cooperation with the City of Del Mar in settling an environmental lawsuit against the fairgrounds operating board, announced the entity on April 13.

“We can’t in good conscience move forward with any other cooperative efforts,” said Ag. Board President Adam Day. “They presented to us a set of deal points in February, which our board quickly and unanimously approved. We have since been waiting for a draft agreement that we finally got on [April 6] and, unfortunately, that draft doesn’t reflect the deal points as originally proposed, and they are so far out of whack that we had no choice but to reject that draft.”

The fair board has been in negotiations with Del Mar, Solana Beach and the San Diego River Park Joint Powers Authority (JPA) to settle the lawsuit, which was filed last June over the Fairgrounds Master Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The stakeholders agreed in February to settlement terms such as implementing a joint public transportation shuttle to mitigate traffic impacts during the fair.

The Ag. Board met on April 10 to discuss the draft, and on April 13 the board issued a press release claiming the City of Del Mar jeopardized the litigation by making new demands, causing a “serious setback” to the possible settlement.

Del Mar City Manager Scott Huth said specifics of the proposed settlement draft can’t be discussed due to ongoing litigation, and part of the agreement between stakeholders was to meet on a management level to work out issues cooperatively, as opposed to publicly airing issues amid negotiations.

“The board decided to take a different approach, and we don’t see how it fosters a cooperative relationship among the JPA, Solana Beach and Del Mar,” Huth said, adding that Del Mar wants to work through issues in a way that maintains a good long-term relationship among those involved. “We want to stay at the table and work with the fair board.”

Huth said Del Mar’s position is that all agreed-upon concepts raised in the last correspondence with the Ag. Board were met in the draft agreement.

“It wasn’t final; it was a draft,” he said. “We expected them to have some feedback, and we were encouraging them to come to the table to work through that. Aside from the public tactic here, we hope there is still that opportunity to move forward.”

Del Mar Mayor Carl Hilliard said it’s not uncommon to run into kinks when moving from a general agreement to “filling in the blanks.”

“When you start spelling out the details, you run into these little bumps in the road,” Hilliard said, adding that Day and Ag. Board member Dave Watson are good negotiators. He pointed specifically to their success in negotiating the years-long dispute with the California Coastal Commission regarding, in part, a wetlands area that the fair had been using for parking.

“I have a great respect for their ability to negotiate,” Hilliard said. “I am sure we will work something out.”

Day said what Hilliard described as a “road bump” is more like a “sink hole.” “Either negotiation or litigation needs to occur before any more staff time or district resources are spent,” he said. Day estimated the tally of legal and labor costs for the Ag. Board to have already reached six figures, and he said he is concerned about the use of public funds moving forward.

“[Del Mar] has told us one thing and they’ve done another,” said Day. “The ball is in their court. If they prefer to go to court, we’ll be happy to see them there.”