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Residents must vacate the park by May 31 and remain unsure if they can return. Photo by Laura Place
Residents must vacate the park by May 31 and remain unsure if they can return. Photo by Laura Place
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Long-term Surf and Turf RV Park tenants face uncertainty

DEL MAR — Multiyear residents of the Surf and Turf RV Park by the Del Mar Fairgrounds face an uncertain future after being informed that long-term stays will no longer be permitted starting in the fall. 

The change affects a small group of around 20 people ranging from young families to elderly individuals who have carved out long-term homes at the site, some for as long as 20 years. 

Each year, all tenants must vacate the park from June to mid-September to make space for those attending the San Diego County Fair and horse races.

JR Ayala, who has lived at the park for the past 11 years, said he made reservations at other parks for himself and his family for the summer months and was fully expecting to return in September as in years past. 

However, rather than the usual notice requiring a $200 deposit to hold a spot for the fall, Ayala and other occupants received a notice from park manager Del Mar Golf Company in late March stating that stays would be limited to 21 days in a calendar year starting in September. 

Ayala, who has two children, was shocked by the news and said it does not give residents enough notice to plan and book new sites for the upcoming year. 

Surf and Turf RV Park tenants pay a substantially lower monthly rate when compared to similar sites across San Diego County. Photo by Laura Place
Surf and Turf RV Park tenants pay a substantially lower monthly rate when compared to similar sites across San Diego County. Photo by Laura Place

“For us to get into our summer spots, which are more expensive, of course, a lot of us have to plan at least six months in advance. For us to know we can’t come back in September, we needed to know back in September [last year],” said Ayala. “You have to know what’s coming ahead so you can plan. Otherwise, guess what? You’re on the street.”

In the notice, the only reason for this change was that the Fairgrounds, which owns the property, was not authorizing long-term stays. However, residents later learned that Del Mar Golf Company, or DMGC, is opting not to manage the park anymore once their contract ends in December. 

Fairgrounds officials say this prevents DMGC from entering into new long-term rental agreements extending past December. 

It is unclear why DMGC said all stays would be limited to 21 days and why they did not state in the notice that they would be ceasing to manage the park.

DMGC declined to comment directly on why it is stepping away from the RV park. However, Fairgrounds officials said the company focuses solely on the other property they manage, the Del Mar Golf Center.

“They have already told us they want to stay. They just don’t want to manage the RV park anymore,” Fairgrounds CEO Carlene Moore said at the 22nd District Agricultural Association board’s May 9 meeting. 

Residents are now looking to the Fairgrounds board to help them and allow them to return in the fall. Moore said staff is still determining whether to seek a new operator to take over the park in January or manage it themselves and whether to allow long-term residents during the September-December gap. 

“There is uncertainty at this moment, and we wanted to be upfront about that so the occupants could potentially make other arrangements if we needed to,” said Fairgrounds spokesperson Tristan Hallman. “We are continuing to research and explore our options. We would like to end the uncertainty in the near future.” 

After receiving a flood of inquiries from panicked tenants, Moore held a forum earlier this month to discuss their concerns at the park. However, attendees said the meeting was “disappointing,” as Moore had no information for them about what to expect in the coming months. 

“In any other situation, there would be some sort of move-in, move-out process that would make this thing softer than it is,” said Nicole, a Surf and Turf occupant for the last year who gave only her first name. “I understand this is an RV park, it’s not an apartment building, but we are tenants.” 

A harsh reality’

Despite having to leave for three months each summer, Surf and Turf tenants prefer the park due to its relatively affordable rent and desirable location. The park charged a $750 monthly rent until this past year when it was raised to $950 a month following a series of site improvements. 

At other parks in the county, it’s difficult to find anything under $2,000 a month, residents said. 

“It’s a harsh reality, because there’s nothing out there,” said Nicole.

Jack Duckworth, 73, has been a resident in the park since 2011. But, as a part-time substitute teacher in Carlsbad who depends on Social Security checks to cover other living costs, he isn’t sure how he’ll afford more expensive parks, and he’s concerned about having to leave his local doctors.

“When I got this notice, it created a lot of anxiety for me because what am I gonna do now?” Duckworth said. “I’ve been a loyal tenant, never paid late … and now I’m worried about myself.”

Ayala said having to move elsewhere will also impact his kids’ education. A huge part of why his family moved to Surf and Turf was so his children would be in the attendance area for Del Mar schools.

The Del Mar Fairgrounds has chosen not to authorize long-term stays for residents of the Surf and Turf RV Park. Photo by Laura Place
The Del Mar Fairgrounds has chosen not to authorize long-term stays for residents of the Surf and Turf RV Park. Photo by Laura Place

“When we found the school, and found the Surf and Turf park that allowed you to stay there for eight and a half months during the school year, which qualified you for the residency there, the gods were like ‘here you go, here’s an awesome school, an awesome community, and here’s an affordable way to live there,” Ayala said. 

Ayala added that long-term tenants provide a valuable source of income at the park, which he said is mainly empty throughout the non-summer months. 

20 years of history

DMGC’s management of the Del Mar Golf Center and the Surf and Turf RV Park has been the status quo for over 20 years. It’s unclear why the group initially took on this odd combination, with the original contract no longer retained in the Fairgrounds’ records. 

Regardless, this is the first time the Fairgrounds has had to make management decisions regarding the Surf and Turf as its entity.

“It is interesting, this bridge of operating golf but also managing this RV operation for the district,” Moore said. “For the first time in what we know to be at least 20 years and probably going back further, we as the district are having to explore the separation of that.” 

Fairgrounds leaders have not given a timeline for when they expect to make a decision but said they would inform park tenants when they have more information. 

In the meantime, Ayala, Duckworth, Nicole and other residents must exit the park by May 31 and are unsure if they can return. 

“I hope they do the right thing by us, and the right thing would be to have the 22nd District run it until they get another [manager] or get someone to internally manage it,” said Nicole.