City weighs in on fairgrounds expansion

SOLANA BEACH — Like many other cities, agencies and residents, Solana Beach had plenty of comments — 474 to be exact — about the master plan and draft environmental report for expansion plans at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Staff members and a team of experts hired by the city for $7,500 concluded, like others, that the report is inconsistent and inadequate in addressing everything from air and water quality, land use and traffic to economics, greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.
When presenting the report to council members for approval during a Feb. 4 special meeting, City Manager David Ott was very specific about the project’s impact on Solana Beach.
“It really has no benefit to the city,” Ott said. The project has “significant and cumulative adverse impacts to Solana Beach” that are not disclosed in the EIR, he said. The report provides only one mitigation measure — painting a striped line at Highway 101 and Lomas Santa Fe Drive that will supposedly reduce delays by more than one minute.
“As proof they didn’t do their homework,” Ott said, “we actually did that three years ago and we certainly didn’t get a minute.
“The traffic impacts alone are going to pose real issues for people trying to get into the community,” he said. “Our intersections will probably go to a very poor level. That could even hinder future development within the city.”
Ott said the project will also affect public safety resources, which are already impacted by the fairgrounds. He said Solana Beach provides first-responder resources to the fairgrounds and back-up to Del Mar when that city is responding to calls at the site. More than 10 percent of Solana Beach’s fire responses are to the fairgrounds, he said.
Solana Beach also provides sewer services to a portion of the fairgrounds. Impacts to that were not addressed in the EIR, he said.
During the notice of preparation, Solana Beach submitted 26 general questions. Ott said only one was partially responded to. According to the California Environmental Quality Act, the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which manages and operates the fairgrounds, was required to consult with the Solana Beach because it is an adjacent city.
To say there was inadequate communication would be misleading, Ott said. “There was no communication with the city of Solana Beach — none,” he said. “We’ve never had any discussions with the fairgrounds on the proposed project.”
Ott said he believes city resources that were committed to reviewing the 4,500-page document may not have been necessary had the 22nd DAA met with city officials.
Linda Zweig, fairgrounds information and media relations officer, said she believes meetings did take place. “There was communication with Solana Beach,” she said. “We did everything in compliance with CEQA.”
The 22nd DAA is proposing several improvements that would be completed in two phases during the next 15 years.
Major components of the near-term projects include new exhibit halls, a four-story 330-room condominium hotel with associated facilities, new administration offices and maintenance facilities, three rooftop sports fields and a health club. The east parking lot would be paved and the Solana Gate entrance graded and expanded from two to three lanes. Long-term plans call for a seasonal train platform and additional parking.
Attorney Mike Hogan said one goal of the project is to make the site more economically self-sustaining, which means it could actually hurt businesses in the surrounding communities because plans call for onsite restaurants and a hotel.
Like officials in Del Mar, Solana Beach recommended that the EIR be rewritten and redistributed for public review. The deadline to submit written comments, which must be responded to, was Feb. 8, however, residents can still provide input.

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