DEL MAR — A Feb. 24 groundbreaking officially began a restoration project to convert back to wetlands a large vacant parcel south of the Del Mar Fairgrounds that has for years been used as an overflow parking lot primarily during the San Diego County Fair and thoroughbred race meet.
The revitalization will be conducted in three phases and include 3.5 acres of coastal salt marsh habitat and 4.7 acres of upland sage scrub habitat in the south lot, east berm and east buffer.
The 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the state-owned fairgrounds, is committing $1.5 million to the first phase.
“But our environmental commitment doesn’t end there,” 22nd DAA President Fred Schenk said. “The 22nd DAA will soon commit another $3.5 million toward the restoration of the remaining portion of the south overflow lot as well as an additional approximately $7 million to storm water improvements in the backstretch/stable area.
“Over the last 10 years the 22nd DAA has committed and/or restored over 20 acres of land to native habitat,” he added. “We have committed to the education of patrons, staff and vendors to ensure that our adjacent waterways remain clean in compliance with both the Clean Water Act and the Coastal Act.”
The project is part of a legal settlement between the 22nd DAA and the California Coastal Commission, adjacent cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach and San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority.
“In the years to come, the landscape in this area will be markedly different, shifting from overflow parking to restored and functioning wetlands and ancillary upland transitional habitat for the benefit of people of San Diego County and the state of California.”
Schenk also noted the current 22nd DAA board of directors has worked for the past few years to mend what was once a somewhat unfriendly relationship with environmental groups and its neighbors to the north and south.
He praised local leaders for their cooperation and commended Del Mar resident Jacqueline Winterer, vice president of the Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley, for taking the project “to a personal level” and being a “strong voice for the community.”
“I think they’re good spirits,” she said of the current board members. “I still give them a hard time to remind them that we own this land as much as they do and to encourage them to carry on the good work.”
Winterer is proposing to name the parcel the Fairgrounds Tidal Marshes rather than the south overflow lot, as it is commonly referred to now.
The restoration project will result in a loss of 1,250 parking spaces. Work is expected to be completed in 2018.