DEL MAR — Both sides have claimed victory following an Oct. 2 ruling on a lawsuit filed against the 22nd District Agricultural Association by the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club in response to an environmental impact report for expansion plans at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
In his ruling, San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager dismissed all but three of the nearly 20 issues cited by the Sierra Club.
“This is a huge victory for the 22nd DAA and the residents of San Diego County,” said Adam Day, president of the board that governs the fairgrounds. “We’re obviously very happy.”
Day said he’s never seen a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) lawsuit 100 percent settled.
“As comprehensive and far-reaching as our master plan is, to have a judge agree on more than 80 percent is absolutely unheard of,” he said. “The judge identified three very narrow issues that will be quickly, easily and completely addressed.”
Jan Chatten-Brown, an attorney for the Sierra Club, said one favorable judgment in a CEQA lawsuit is a win, and she considers the three issues significant.
“I think they will have a difficult time complying with two of the points,” she said. “They may have a clear road ahead of them but it’s not an easy one.”
The 22nd DAA board of directors certified an EIR in April 2011 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. (Only three of the directors who approved the document remain on the board.)
The Sierra Club filed its lawsuit because of concerns about impacts of the proposed development on wetlands, biological resources, traffic, greenhouse gases and water supply.
Prager ruled the 22nd DAA failed to adequately analyze traffic impacts and mitigation, identify an adequate water supply for the project in the short term and describe existing greenhouse gas emissions from fairgrounds operations.
Chatten-Brown said the first two issues could prove to be easier said than done.
“They can’t just say they will have an adequate water supply,” she said. “They have to identify it or, if not, say how it can be achieved.
“When it comes to traffic impacts, they can’t just say they’ll pay their fair share,” she said. “They have to show what they are doing, how it will work and that they have the money to pay for it. And they’ve been working with (Del Mar and Solana Beach) and haven’t been able to come to an agreement yet.”
“The judge found in favor of the district overwhelmingly,” he said. “We essentially prevailed in every issue. … We plan to proceed with the minor technical studies and then proceed with final adoption for a plan for these critical improvements.”
Del Mar, Solana Beach and the San Dieguito River Valley Joint Powers Authority filed a similar lawsuit following last year’s EIR certification. The parties are in settlement discussions but nothing has been resolved.
“The board accepted the terms and conditions of a settlement but the final document didn’t reflect what we agreed to,” Day said.
Chatten-Brown said she will meet with Sierra Club officials in about a week to discuss what if any settlement they want to pursue.
“They still have to go back to court and ultimately the Sierra Club has the opportunity to object,” she said. “Nothing is going to happen overnight. It will be at least six months before we can go back to court.”
The 22nd DAA board meets Oct. 9 and will likely discuss in closed session what if any impact the recent court decision will have on those negotiations.