DEL MAR — Legal issues that have plagued the Del Mar Fairgrounds may soon be over after the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors reached settlement agreements on potential and pending lawsuits following a 30-minute closed-session meeting Feb. 15.With two directors absent and two vacancies on the nine-member panel, the board voted 5-0 to resolve complaints from the California Coastal Commission and pending litigation with Del Mar, Solana Beach and the San Dieguito River Valley Joint Powers Authority.
Details are not currently available for the settlement with the JPA and two cities because it is a draft agreement.
The three agencies teamed up to file lawsuits after the 22nd DAA board, which governs the fairgrounds, certified an environmental impact report in April 2011 for expansion plans at the state-owned facility. (Only three directors who approved the EIR remain on the board.)
Plans call for several improvements to the 340-acre site, including new exhibit halls, a parking structure with rooftop athletic fields, administrative offices and a seasonal train platform.
Del Mar and Solana Beach officials say the EIR 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.
Solana Beach Mayor Joe Kellejian said it would be inappropriate to comment on the settlement “until my council has been fully informed,” but he did say most of the issues in the lawsuit were environmental.
“Solana Beach is supportive of protecting the environment,” he said. “Our concerns were with that in mind. … Unfortunately Solana Beach had to go to this extent to have our concerns heard.”
Adam Day, 22nd DAA president, also couldn’t talk about the agreement but said “all four entities approved the same settlement points.”
“It’s good for all agencies involved,” he said. “It’s good for the public and taxpayers. It’s good for the environment.” Details should be available in two to three weeks, he said.
The San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club is also suing the 22nd DAA for its adoption of the EIR but it was not part of the settlement agreement.
The lawsuits were originally consolidated but the Sierra Club has additional environmental concerns, the group’s attorney, Pamela Epstein, said.
The Sierra Club is moving forward with litigation and expects it to get under way in March, Epstein said.
“We’re all trying to ensure the preservation and protection of the fairgrounds,” she said. “But every party has a different set of issues.
“It’s always practical to have a settlement on the table,” she said, adding that she hasn’t seen the agreement yet.
Day described the agreement with the Coastal Commission as “monumental, unprecedented” and “very, very significant.”
“Our agency and the Coastal Commission have completely changed course,” he said.”It will be an enormous benefit to the people of San Diego County.”
The commission has accused the 22nd DAA of violating or blatantly ignoring several of its policies, including not acquiring permits for projects at the facility.
The board’s proposed agreement will be submitted to the Coastal Commission for consideration at its March meeting.
If approved it will “put an end to a long-standing dispute between our agencies and allow us to work collaboratively on fairground projects,” Day said. “Our board has agreed to provide millions of dollars to restore wetlands, protect coastal resources and promote coastal awareness and education.”
According to the agreement the 22nd DAA will restore the entire south overflow parking lot to wetlands, restore 100-foot wetlands buffers along the southern edge of the south and east overflow lots and the golf driving range and construct a Coast-to-Crest Trail and buffer along the southern and western edges of the fairgrounds property.
The fairgrounds will also remove riprap and restore areas of the northern shore of the San Dieguito River.
After the restoration, the re-created wetlands and buffer areas would be protected with conservation easements that could be managed by a third party such as the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority. The 22nd DAA would provide $20,000 a year for five years to help the JPA manage the wetlands and a public access trail.
The proposal also includes a coastal awareness and education component. The fairgrounds may continue using the east overflow lots for parking and temporary events.
If approved the fairgrounds must submit restoration plans for all buffer and wetlands work within six months. It will have up to one year to apply for coastal development permits for various ongoing activities.
Total cost to the 22nd DAA is estimated to be between $4 million and $5 million.
“The threat of litigation and animosity have been going on for more than 10 years – long before I was on the board,” Day said, adding that the agreement is the result of “hours and hours of meetings” and a “willingness and commitment on both sides to resolve these issues once and for all.”