SD Polo Club to abandon public trail

The San Diego Polo Club has agreed to vacate the public trail that runs alongside its property and no longer use it to exercise its polo ponies. For years, the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority and the city have fought the club on this issue, arguing that it should be open to public use and that it serves as an important link in the 55-mile Coast to Crest Trail.

“We listened loud and clear that horses, bikes and people do not want us to have any exercise ponies on that space,” polo club President Chris Collins said. “We just feel that we want to continue to have a good relationship with the city and make it work without using that piece of property.”

Instead of using the trail, they will build a separate, 20-foot-wide exercise path around their fields located on the back of their property.

Collins said the current trail, which now runs about a mile and a half and ranges from 35 to 50 feet wide, will be decreased to 14 to 25 feet per the city’s suggestions. The remaining space will be replanted with native species.

“I think it’s a good solution and we’re hoping to get a positive response,” Collins said.

The city gave the club until July 11 to resubmit their plans for the trail. If their plans are deemed insufficient the city will pursue putting them in a default of their lease and enforce civil penalties up to $250,000, said Bob Vacchi of city code enforcement.

“This issue goes back several years,” said Councilmember Marti Emerald at a June 24 meeting of the city’s natural resource committee. “Moving forward, we really do want to draw the line at the end of August, that it’s fish or cut bait at that point.”

The committee plans to hear the city’s response to the new plans on Sept. 9.

“We’re going to get this done,” said Councilmember Donna Frye. “We’re going to get this trail open.”

The polo club has leased the property from the city since 1986. The lease expires in 2011. At the time of the 1986 lease, a 15- to 20-foot-wide public trail existed on the north bank of the river.

The polo club has used the path as an exercise run for ponies since 1986. For that purpose, the club churns the soil at six to eight inches deep, which the JPA said makes the path “useless and dangerous” for hiking and biking.

JPA letters to the city about this complaint date back to 2006.

At the June 24 natural resource committee meeting, District 3 Supervisor Pam Slater-Price and Emerald spoke out strongly against the club.

“I do believe that the polo club has not yet grasped the fact that this is a public trail,” said Slater-Price, speaking as a member of the JPA. “For so long they have considered this their own property and the public an annoyance they have to deal with.”

Not only do the ponies interfere with public use, Slater-Price said the use of the trail pushes dirt into the riverbed and disturbs the nearby wetland.

Collins maintains that the trail has always been open for the public to use - he said it’s used daily by walkers and riders. He said soccer moms often drop their kids off for practice and take off for a jog on the trail.

The only time it is ever closed is during Sunday polo matches for safety reasons, he said.