Surf Cup Sports to take over polo fields lease

The city has selected Surf Cup Sports as the winning proposal in the bid process to take over the lease of the San Diego Polo Fields. A new 25-year lease is currently being developed and will be approved by San Diego City Council in the next couple of months.

Jim Madaffer, representing Surf Cup Sports, updated the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board on its plans for the 80-acre property at its Feb. 24 meeting.

“Our central theme is stewardship for the land and giving back to the community,” said Madaffer, a former San Diego City Council member.

San Diego obtained the polo club land in the early 1980s as part of a deal for development of the nearby community of Fairbanks Ranch. The city received a total of 616 acres, most of which was used for construction of the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club, which is also leased to the city through 2044. Although the original deed for the polo club property stated that there would be no active, non-community recreational uses, an updated memorandum of understanding does allow for active use sports.

The San Diego Polo Club’s 26-year lease expired in 2012 and since then has leased the property on a month-to-month basis. A request for proposals went out in May of 2015 — Surf Cup Sports was selected among the bids.

With its proposal, Madaffer said Surf Soccer has committed to making several improvements for the better, including the “immediate benefit” of two new fields that will be open for community sports groups to use as scheduled through the Carmel Valley Recreation Council.

Surf Soccer has also pledged to help complete a major restoration and improvements to the Coast to Crest Trail along the property, which has been approved and never completed for a decade. Madaffer said Surf has met with the San Dieguito River Park and has agreed to give them the funds and allow the organization to build the trails in any way they want.

The plan also features the development of a new equestrian arena and staging area toward the back of the property for community trail access as well as new public restrooms.

In addition, the plan includes the employment of professional traffic management staff, a change in on-property traffic flow and a new parking plan meant to alleviate local street traffic.

Madaffer said Surf Cup plans to adhere to the strict number of events per year outlined in the deed as well as the kind of events that are permitted—he said there will be no car shows, no lights or amplified sound. The deed language allows for 25 events a year and Madaffer said Surf will “probably be well under that” due to the health of the grass.

Madaffer said letting the grass rest is their biggest issue as the health of the turf is important to maintain a world-class soccer facility.

In their RFP, Surf Cup included that polo activities will continue on the site, whether with San Diego Polo Club or with another group.

“Polo will have a place here,” Madaffer said, noting as they are a youth sports group they are especially interested in educational polo lessons. “A decision will be made after the lease is final.”

“My issue with the Surf Cup has always been with poor traffic direction,” said Carmel Valley planning board member Christian Clews. “(Those directing traffic) always give first priority to event participants versus the normal traffic patterns.”

Madaffer said that Surf is aware that the traffic can be “nightmarish.” Toward the end of 2015, Surf employed a new ingress and egress on Via de la Valle to help eliminate traffic build-ups on El Camino Real.

“It’s made a huge difference,” Madaffer said, however several neighbors in attendance said that the difference was not for the better.

“If you’re coming from the Flower Hill Mall area, good luck,” said resident Mike Scott.

Scott and other neighbors say the new traffic pattern brings up an “unbelievable” amount of dust and dirt to their homes and has added more signage and cones to Via de la Valle, as well as a significant amount of mud and dirt clots tracked out onto the road.

Some neighbors said they feel that the change to allow recreational sports use was a “huge betrayal” of public trust, when the land was meant to be passive, open space.

Neighbors complained that even though it’s not counted as an “event,” regular soccer practices can bring up to 100 cars parked at the fields on a week day. Soccer activity also brings 7 a.m. whistles and practices that last well after dark.

“It’s children playing,” Madaffer said. “I’m sorry you have to live next to children playing.”

Madaffer said that 95 percent of the time, the place is quiet and open and Surf provides maintenance to the 60 acres at no cost to the taxpayers. They are also promising continued public access for trail use, equestrians, bird watchers in new bird blinds or to just go out and throw a Frisbee on the grass when soccer is not in play.

“We want to be an active part of the community and we want to hear any concerns that you have,” Madaffer said. “We will commit to coming back to this planning group as often as you want us.

“We want to work with everybody and the neighbors. We want to be sensitive to the concerns, we want to be sensitive to traffic, we want to be sensitive to noise, we want to be sensitive to the mud, all of the issues that you’ve talked about. We don’t want problems so if there is a problem we want to fix it and make it better.”