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Cities outline plans to review fairgrounds expansion

COAST CITIES — With only 90 days to review the master plan and draft environmental impact report for expansion at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, officials in Del Mar and Solana Beach will spend much of their time during the next two months examining the document before a Jan. 8 deadline to submit comments.
Meetings were held almost immediately after the 4,500-page report was released Oct. 9. Staff in both cities outlined their review process and initial concerns during scheduled City Council meetings the last week of October.
Redevelopment plans, which have been in the works for the past decade or so, include near- and long-terms projects during the next 15 years. Initially, the expansion will include a 330-room hotel condominium with an 18,000-square-foot ballroom, new exhibition halls, rooftop sports fields, a 1,560-vehicle parking structure, a health club and an office and administrative building.
Long-term plans feature a seasonal train platform and a multilevel parking structure on the east parking lot.
In Del Mar, where most of the 340-acre facility is located, the in-house review team will include directors and managers of the Planning, Public Works and Clean Water departments, city and traffic engineers, the city attorney, the fire marshal and representatives from the Sheriff’s Department.
An ad hoc citizens advisory committee was revived to provide input. The 12 members, who meet weekly, have been assigned different portions of the document to review and assess based on their expertise. They will also seek input from other community advisory groups.
To increase the efficiency of its review, staff will contact other agencies affected, including the county Air Pollution Control District, the cities of San Diego and Solana Beach and resource agencies such as California Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and Caltrans. City officials had hoped to receive input from the Army Corps of Engineers and the California Coastal Commission, but those agencies said staff is not available.
Brian Mooney, interim planning director, said initial concerns include inadequate data to assess the individual projects in the plans and several mitigation measure strategies that can’t be implemented because they are identified as the “responsibilities of other agencies,” such as traffic control measures and replacement of the fire station.
There is also a failure to address dedicated freeway access ramps, and there are concerns about intensity of development close to the lagoon.
Solana Beach has also formed a technical team comprising in-house staff and is sending a mailer to residents encouraging them to comment on the voluminous document since there isn’t time to form a citizens advisory committee.
Council members also authorized staff to spend up to $75,000 from the general fund for additional technical expertise to review the report. The initial request was for $25,000, but council members and several residents said that amount wouldn’t be enough.
“We need to do whatever it takes to hire outside consultants and work with staff to … get a comprehensive and complete analysis done,” Gary Martin said. “If we don’t do it I think in the long run we’re going to be losing all the leverage we might have to influence what that project ultimately looks like and its impacts on our community.
“I’m the last person for wasteful spending,” Martin said. “In this case, we need to make the investment. … This is all about the character of our community. This is going to have impacts far beyond what we can even understand at the initial level. If we don’t act now and don’t act decisively I think we’re going to be making a mistake.”
Councilman Joe Kellejian said he sees the current expansion plans as an opportunity to finally mitigate the negative impacts the fairgrounds has on Solana Beach.
“Because of the positioning of the fairgrounds, the impacts to Del Mar (are) no place near what the impacts