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Cities turn to law for ‘dialogue’

COAST CITIES — Del Mar and Solana Beach have teamed up to challenge expansion plans at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Del Mar City Attorney Leslie Devaney announced at the May 9 meeting that council members agreed to “move forward with litigation” on the final environmental impact report that was certified by the fair board April 18. She said the city was also entering into a “joint representation agreement with Solana Beach in that particular matter.”
“It’s not that anybody is suing anybody,” Solana Beach Councilman Dave Roberts said at his council meeting two days later.
“This is a precautionary step to lead to meaningful dialogue,” he said. “It’s nothing more. It’s nothing less.
“If we don’t do this it could have mega ramifications for years to come on this community,” Roberts said.
Bob Mahlowitz, Del Mar deputy city attorney, said that city is “exploring its legal options in terms of challenging the EIR,” but it has not filed a lawsuit.
The 22nd District Agricultural Association, which manages the state-owned fairgrounds, issued a draft EIR in 2009 proposing several improvements to the 340-acre site that would be completed during the next 15 years.
Near-term plans included a 330-room condominium-hotel with an 18,000-square-foot ballroom, parking facilities for 58 RVs, new exhibit halls with underground parking and three rooftop sports fields, a health club and administrative offices.
Long-term projects call for a multilevel parking structure and seasonal train platform.
During the 120-day review period, the 22nd DAA received 123 letters with numerous comments each from several organizations, residents and state, regional and local agencies, including Del Mar and Solana Beach.
After responding to every comment, which it was required to do, the fair board made a few changes and certified the final EIR at a special meeting April 18. The condo-hotel was removed from the master plan and board members agreed to conduct workshops to garner public input to refine and review design plans for the exhibit halls, rooftop sports facilities and a freeway sign.
People and agencies who commented on the draft EIR have 30 days to challenge the final document once it is formally certified if they feel their remarks were not properly addressed.
Del Mar and Solana Beach officials said the certified document does not adequately address many issues, including traffic, noise and lighting impacts, and the 22nd DAA did not seek sufficient input from either city, as it was required to do.
“There are many issues that are unresolved that could have a significant negative impact on this community,” Solana Beach City Manager David Ott said.
“They responded back by basically saying everything’s adequate when it’s not adequate to us,” he said. “We’re left with little choice but to challenge the EIR.”
“The door slams shut on any actions if we don’t act within 30 days so we’re simply taking a legal step to protect our community’s interests and rights,” Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner said.
Representatives from both cities have also expressed concern that the condo-hotel was removed from the master plan, but it remains in the final EIR.
“That means basically on the 31st day they can go right back and do all this activity,” Roberts said.
Tim Fennell, fairgrounds chief executive officer, called that a “totally inaccurate statement.”
“We’d have to go through the process again if we put the hotel-condo back in,” he said.
Fennell called the threat of a lawsuit “unfortunate.”
“It’s disappointing, but not surprising,” he said.
Solana Beach Councilman Joe Kellejian said he supports challenging the EIR with “a heavy heart.”
“Generally this community has embraced the fairgrounds, and the fairgrounds has embraced this community,” he said. “In this situation we really have to protect our interests.”
Kellejian said the 22nd DAA talked about working with the city to address impacts. “If that discussion would have happened in the beginning we could have come to some agreement … but they chose not to,” he said.
“We all feel much the same way,” Heebner said.