City limits permit comments to traffic woes

DEL MAR — City Council unanimously agreed at the Nov. 4 meeting to again weigh in on events allowed on property east of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, but comments will be limited to how those uses impact traffic rather than the nearby wetlands. 

The 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the state-owned facility, submitted two permit applications to the California Coastal Commission, one of which seeks authorization for continued use of what is known as the east overflow lot for temporary events, such as the pumpkin patch and Christmas tree sales.

It also includes a request for future, unspecified events and temporary structures to facilitate them, as well as a paved bus lane and trail parking along the south overflow lot, which the 22nd DAA is currently restoring to wetlands.

The applications were submitted in response to requirements of consent orders issued by the Coastal Commission in 2012 to address previous fairgrounds activity that occurred without approval.

The consent orders are part of a settlement agreement between the 22nd DAA, Del Mar, Solana Beach and the San Dieguito River Valley Joint Powers Authority.

Council members Lee Haydu and Don Mosier worked with the 22nd DAA Community Relations Subcommittee to draft comment letters submitted to the Coastal Commission for its Nov. 13 meeting.

The letters state general support for the applications but express concerns about traffic impacts from existing events at the fairgrounds and additional problems that could result from more activities there.

“Part of this concern stems from the fact that the (permit) application provides only limited information on the frequency, duration and anticipated attendance levels of the events for which

Commission authorization is requested,” one letter states.

The letter also reiterates the concern that the current reliance on traffic control practices rather than improvements and other mitigation measures fails to meet the demands for existing conditions, let alone for more events.

While cones and attendants help keep traffic flowing to and from the site, they consistently fail during major events, according to the letter.

A comprehensive traffic plan and physical improvements to traffic lanes and parking areas are needed, as is a change in the way parking fees are collected because backups are now common at collection points, the letter states.

Although the city encourages bus use, there are concerns about the safety of the proposed bus lane.

“It is unclear how west-bound buses would cross the heavily travelled east-bound travel lanes of Jimmy Durante,” the letter states.

The letters don’t differ much from ones sent for the commission’s October meeting, during which the hearing on one permit was continued after several speakers requested the southern third of the east overflow lot be restored because a recent study indicates there are more wetlands there.

Since then, the stakeholders met to work out a compromise. Coastal Commission staff will recommend at the Nov. 13 meeting that the 22nd DAA place the area under a conservation easement immediately and phase out use within 10 years.

There is also a requirement to transfer title of a 4.5-acre parcel south of the horse park east of Interstate 5 to a commission-approved entity.

At the November Del Mar meeting, former county Supervisor Pam Slater-Price and Bill Michalsky, both city residents, asked council members to request that part of the east parking lot be used only during the fair and race meets and that the horse park lot be transferred to the San Dieguito River Valley JPA.

With respect to sensitive habitat impacts at the east overflow lot, which is actually in the city of San Diego, Del Mar supports “a compromise that preserves as much wetland habitat in the southern portion of the EOL as possible, while also allowing the DAA sufficient time to transition to the use of other areas to meet parking needs,” the letter states.

Council members opted to send the letters without any changes.

“I don’t think that it’s Del Mar’s business at this point to tell the Coastal Commission exactly what they need to do,” Mosier said. “There’s enough unhappiness” with the staff recommendation that fairgrounds officials could “walk away from the consent order … in which case we lose the south overflow lot restoration and we’re back to where we were two years ago” when the lawsuits were filed.

“I would like to do our best to preserve the consent order, plus what the Coastal Commission staff recommended, and not push the issue forward,” Mosier added. “I don’t think it’s in Del Mar’s interest to push it.

“I think there is a risk,” he said. “At some point the fair board has to accept this staff recommendation and whatever the Coastal Commission says or start the fight all over again, a fight that went on for 30 years.”

Councilman Al Corti disagreed, although he voted to send the letters as written.

“We’re trying to bargain for the benefit of Del Mar,” he said. “I’m in support of taking the strongest position we can and letting the fair board know about it.”

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