Some Lagoon History

Some Lagoon History
During the 1920s the U.S. Navy established an emergency landing field in the San Dieguito River Valley in an area east and west of I-5, known as the San Dieguito Field. The property is believed to have been developed as a municipal airport around 1938 to serve the racing patrons at the new Del Mar Fairgrounds. The airport included a 3,500-foot runway and several support buildings.

In 1941, the Navy acquired an extra 80.4 acres, but since the field could not accommodate modern aircraft, the US Naval Auxiliary Air Facility Del Mar, as it was known, became a base for lighter-than-air aircraft, also known as blimps. The Del Mar facility could accommodate two blimps, which were used in anti-submarine patrols along the west coast.

After Pearl Harbor, fairs and racing at Del Mar were suspended, and the Navy added the fairgrounds and racetrack to the main facility where the blimp mooring masts and landing fields were located. The fairgrounds became barracks, galleys, mess halls, offices, recreational facilities and classrooms for Navy personnel stationed there during the war.

Using radar, magnetic detection equipment and visual sightings, the blimps were used along the California coast to detect enemy submarines. They were K-types assigned to the blimp squadron ZP-31 based at the Santa Ana Naval Air Station. Approximately 134 K-type blimps were built for the war effort, each measuring 251.7 feet in length, able to lift 7,770 pounds, and with a maximum speed of 67.5 knots.

Usually only two blimps operated from the Del Mar field at one time since there were only two mooring masts. They were refueled at Del Mar and then continued anti-submarine patrols up and down the coast and as much as 100 miles out to sea.

The Del Mar Naval Auxiliary Air Facility was decommissioned in 1945 and the fairgrounds and racetrack returned to the State of California.

New owners
The Navy retained ownership of the airfield until 1947, when the 80.4 acres were quitclaimed to the County of San Diego for one dollar. The field was used as a civilian airport until 1959 when it was transferred to the State as part of the I-5 right-of-way.

After the airport closed, a company called Non Linear Systems moved its operations into the site barracks. NLS produced digital voltmeters, started in 1952 by a young Del Mar engineer, Andrew Kay. Work at NLS led to the production of the "Kaypro", one of the first home computers. NLS moved its plant to Solana Beach in 1968.

Saving the Lagoon
Attempts, to save, and restore the San Dieguito Lagoon, date back to the 1970s when more and more people chose to come and live in the coastal area.  In Del Mar, environmentally-minded local residents saw that, unless efforts were made to protect specific habitats this valley would end up looking like San Diego River Valley with its big shopping centers and immense parking lots. They formed a Lagoon Preservation Committee and with the support of the Del Mar City Council, a Lagoon Enhancement Plan was created and adopted in 1979 as part of the City’s General Plan. The plan was later endorsed by the City of San Diego and was certified by the California Coastal Commission.

In 1987, Birtcher-Pacific, a developer, bought the old airport area. It sought to amend the Lagoon Enhancement Plan to permit development of two 300-room hotels, a shopping center, an access interchange from I-5 and a 200 seat restaurant. Several public hearings were held, hundreds of concerned people spoke against the plan and were happy to see it eventually abandoned.

The San Dieguito River Valley Joint Powers Authority is the multi-city agency formed in 1989 by the San Diego Association of Governments to create an open space greenway and an extensive trail system within the San Dieguito River Valley. There was great satisfaction in seeing the Birtcher property become its first land purchase.

In 1991 the Coastal Commission required Southern California Edison to restore 150 acres of wetlands as mitigation for the impacts on the marine environment caused by the San Onofre nuclear power plant and fortunately chose the San Dieguito Lagoon for the project.

Forty years have elapsed since the Del Mar Lagoon Committee formulated its dreams of saving the lagoon. The persistence and hard work of many organizations has produced the exciting progress we see today in saving the San Dieguito wetlands.

Land Use Decisions in the Carmel and San Dieguito River Valleys

Jan McMillan, April 1984

On March 20, [1984] the San Diego City Council debated land-use issues which critics claim could have far-reaching impacts on the river valleys both north and south of Del Mar. On the agenda that day, along with highly publicized "threshold hearings" for the La Jolla Valley and adjacent Artesian Trails developments, were threshold hearings for the San Dieguito Community Plan and Carmel Valley Neighborhood 8.


Note: This piece appeared in the monthy column "Changes" of The Del Mar Spectator published by Jan McMillan in 1983 and 1984.


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