Missing Carmel Valley area trail connection continues to stymie city’s new resource management plan

By Karen Billing


The missing east to west trail connection through the Del Mar Mesa Preserve continues to be the glaring roadblock in the city’s new resource management plan.

The lack of the east-west link has been called “fatally flawed” by the Del Mar Mesa Community Planning Board and “shortsighted” by the Rancho Penasquitos planning board.

Even the Chaparral Lands Conservancy, which watches over the largest acreage of chaparral habitat left in the state in the preserves, compromised on a connection.

Chris Zirkle, deputy director of the city’s open space division, presented the final draft of the Carmel Mountain and Del Mar Mesa Preserve’s plans on July 21 to the Los Penasquitos Canyon Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), a group whose recommendations on the plan are being closely watched by other city and community oversight groups.

Hikers, mountain-bikers and equestrian users are likely to get considerably more trails than they would have had in the plan’s first draft, although less than the large amount of illegal trails that are on the ground right now. However, that east-west connection will likely not materialize. Despite a “last hurrah” effort by Zirkle last week, the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) will not budge on behalf of the delicate ecosystem of vernal pools.

“The writing’s on the wall,” said Allen Kashani, a mountain biker and member of the Del Mar Mesa and Carmel Valley community planning boards. “Not having the Tunnel 3 or 5 trails, the average mountain biker will have a big problem with that, in addition to no east-west connector. The plan is not supportable.”

The end to this nearly four-year odyssey is still not near as the CAC only heard the plan as an informational item last week. They are hoping to schedule a community meeting on the topic but not until October. After the CAC weighs in, the plan still has to go through the San Diego park and recreation and planning commission levels before getting final approval by city council.

Without the plan in place, trails have been closed since December 2008 and other projects, such as the Chaparral Lands Conservancy’s grant-funded vernal pool restoration on the Carmel Mountain Preserve, are delayed.

Zirkle said their goal was always to get as many trails as the resource agencies (CFDG and U.S Fish and Wildlife) would allow, without compromising the integrity of the Multiple Species Conservation Program. The mesa is both a wildlife refuge and an ecological preserve. It’s one of the largest chunks of habitat there is in San Diego and it is where several sensitive species breed and multiply, he said.

According to the RMP, sensitive plants in the preserve include San Diego golden star and mesa mint, Coast barrel cactus, Del Mar sand aster, manzanita and scrub oak among others. There are also several endangered species that live in the preserve, such as horned lizards, Western spadefoot toads, several species of birds, mule deer and San Diego fairy shrimp that live in the vernal pools.

“We have to look at the wildlife first and recreation to the extent that it doesn’t effect wildlife,” Zirkle said.

Several trail users have come up with possible solutions for the missing east-west connection. Del Mar Mesa resident Preston Drake pointed out that along the CDFG fence line there is a suitable trail that avoids all vernal pools.

David Hogan, from the Chaparral Lands Conservancy, said they supported a similar trail – they compromised and backed a trail that “threaded the needle tightly” in that area, avoiding pool basins.

“I would still like to see an east-west connection to achieve the best management plan,” Hogan said.

Josh Garcia, a city senior planner, said they considered the area with CDFG and said it was wet with pools and too close to endangered plants for them to accept.

Making sure people stick to the plan is going to be a key factor in its viability and Zirkle said they have come up with some management strategies.

Options include signage, user-education and enforcement. While the city’s budget situation probably couldn’t support additional patrol, a CDFG

warden has been patrolling their 81 acres and would have jurisdiction to enforce on the city and federally-owned lands. They can also fence off closed trails or fill them with brush.

Zirkle admitted that efforts using the brush-fill strategy on similar trails in Orange County failed.

“They’re finding that citations is what it took to control the situation,” said Zirkle.

Kashani was quick to point out one very effective management tool: Trails.

Zirkle said that Kashani’s point was valid and one that they have expressed to the resource agencies. “Use of an area reduces illegal use,” he said.