DEL MAR — The Sierra Club San Diego filed a lawsuit on Jan. 8 against the California Coastal Commission, challenging the agency’s Nov. 13 approval of a permit that allows the 22nd District Agricultural Association to continue using a vacant lot east of the Del Mar Fairgrounds for year-round parking and other activities.
The permit is one of several needed by the 22nd DAA, which oversees the fairgrounds, to move forward with consent orders that resulted from a settlement reached in March 2012 to resolve and mitigate past unpermitted development and activities at the state-owned facility.
The 22nd DAA used vacant lots to the south and east for parking during the fair and horse races before establishment of the Coastal Act in 1976 so the commission hasn’t challenged those uses during those events.
It was additional uses during other times of the year that were considered violations.
As part of the settlement the 22nd DAA agreed to restore back to wetlands a 9.5-acre unpaved dirt parcel known as the south overflow parking lot.
Because the fairgrounds will lose about 1,250 parking spaces as a result, officials sought to continue using the parcel east of Jimmy Durante Boulevard for year-round temporary events such as a pumpkin patch, Christmas tree sales and parking, as well as additional future temporary events.
County Supervisor Dave Roberts and representatives from several environmental groups and the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority said the southern third of the east overflow lot — less than 5 acres — should be restored because a recent study indicates there are more wetlands there.
Coastal Commission staff recommended using the lower third of the east lot for a maximum of 10 years for parking only during the San Diego County Fair and summer and fall horse races.
The staff recommendation also required that a conservation easement be immediately be placed on that same section of the east lot.
But commissioners voted 7-3 against the recommendation and granted the fairgrounds a 10-year permit to use the east lot year-round for parking and other events with a requirement that two traffic studies be done in that time — one of which fairgrounds officials plan to begin immediately.
“The Sierra Club California has long fought to protect our San Diego wetlands, which are a unique natural resource,” Sierra Club representative David Grubb wrote in a press release. “We were deeply troubled when the Coastal Commission itself violated the Coastal Act by authorizing the uses sought by the Agricultural District. Sacrificing our already limited wetlands is not the solution, especially when there are alternatives.”
Grubb said the Sierra Club isn’t opposed to all conditions of the permit.
“But we can’t pick and choose and slice and dice,” he said. “We have to object to the entire decision.”
He said the organization supports the JPA’s suggested compromise, which was reflected in the staff recommendation.
“It’s safe to say that if the Coastal Commission approved the staff recommendation we would not have filed the lawsuit,” Grubb said.
He also said the Sierra Club has no current plans to sue the 22nd DAA.
“They didn’t make the bad decision,” he said.