Archives: News 2005



The eye-catching temporary Strawberry Stand Wetland Learning Center on Via de la Valle opened October 15 with its first docent-on-duty greeting visitors to the western end of the 50-mile long San Dieguito River Valley Park.  Anne Merritt, Friends Board member and local plein-air artist pictured, is one of a half dozen volunteers organized by the Friends  to provide information on the Park’s western access trail, coastal habitat and the long anticipated 400-acre lagoon restoration project.

Docent Anne Merritt at the Strawberry Stand

The new docents will be on hand Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon at the Center, just east of I-5 off Via de la Valle.  Find your way to the remodeled strawberry stand by turning south on San Andres at California Bank & Trust. Park on San Andres and walk north-east on the path that runs behind the Bank, to the learning center.  Informational signs will lead the way.

 Visitors can take in views of the western river valley and read informational signage about nearby bird habitats and native plant life.  A major job of the volunteers will be to explain and answer questions about the San Dieguito Lagoon Restoration Project, granted final approval by the California Coastal Commission on October 14 and scheduled to break ground on November 5.

Additional volunteers will allow the interpretive center to be open on Sundays.  For more information on volunteering contact Barbara Baker, River Valley Park, at (858) 674-2275 x14 or

The temporary interpretive center will stay in place during the restoration project giving way to a permanent structure when the restoration is completed in approximately 2008. In the meantime a once popular strawberry stand was remodeled as a temporary visitors center and is not only eye-catching but the recipient of two architectural awards, one for energy efficiency. Volunteers from the engineering firm Montgomery, Watson and Harza built the structure last year with funds made available by County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. 




On Wednesday, October 12, the California Coastal Commission will consider the issuance of permits for the long-awaited Wetlands Restoration Project. We encourage all friends of the San Dieguito River Valley to attend and give brief statements of support to the Commission.

When: Wednesday, October 12th, probably late morning;
Where: at the San Diego Marriott, 333 W. Harbor Drive, San Diego

The agenda is at:

A staff report should be available from the Commission website next week.

Call Ann Gardner at 858 755-6061 if you would like to share a ride or if you have questions.


JULY 2005


On June 9 the City of San Diego issued a five page Notice to the San Diego Polo Club on El Camino Real that they are in violation of the city’s Municipal Code and that the Club is subject to civil penalties. The Club denies any violation and is evidently challenging the Notice.

At issue is the Club’s maintenance and use of an area abutting the River as an exercise trail for the Polo Club horses. As pictured in photos taken by the Friends, the exercise area comes up to the river edge. Municipal Code requires a100-foot buffer as well as appropriate measures to prevent erosion and stop sediment and pollutants from entering the water.

A second issue is that the Club’s use of the area – a designated public trail - to exercise its horses precludes its use by residents for walking, hiking and bicycling. The San Dieguito River Park, which is developing a 55-mile coast to crest trail that includes this area, plans to develop a trail that can also be used by persons with disabilities.

The Polo Club leases 295 acres of land, which includes the polo fields, from the City of San Diego. Public Access Regulations in the Club’s lease agreement with the City designate the area of the horse exercise track as a public trail to “remain open to the public at all times.”

Chris Collins, a Director of the Club, says the graded exercise track is used by area equestrians and that walkers, runners, hikers and bicyclists can and do use the paved Polo Club Road on the north side of the fence. He says that he understands the property is open space to be made available to the public. (The lease also requires that the polo fields themselves are “open to the public during daylight hours for passive uses (i.e., spectating, picnicking) which do not interfere with use of the Polo Fields by Polo Club members practicing or playing polo nor…other normal operations of the Polo Club.”)

However, Collins also says the Municipal Code covering environmentally sensitive lands does not apply to the property because the code was enacted after the lease was signed. We hope the City continues to disagree.



MARCH 2005

22nd Agricultural District Master Plan (3/14/05)

The 22nd Ag District wants to update the Fairgrounds and Racetrack at Del Mar with 65 new projects that would result in more events, additional paved parking lots, electronic signage at Interstate 5 and possible use of the Polo Fields east of I-5 as a horse-training facility with stabling capacity for 700 horses and “… other uses in the off-season.” The updated Master Plan also “acknowledges” the possibility of a conference hotel at the current site.

The entire Racetrack and Fairgrounds complex is located within a floodplain/wetlands area wedged between the mouth of the San Dieguito River at the Pacific Ocean, the River and the San Dieguito Lagoon. An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is required before any of the projects can be implemented. Unlike other project applicants, however, the Ag District can approve its own EIR because it is a public agency. The only overriding authorities are the California Coastal Commission and public opinion.

The Friends closely monitor proposed development on the site. In 1987 the Del Mar Lagoon Committee and the Friends alerted the community to plans for building a hotel and parking lot in the center of the Lagoon (at the old WWII airfield east of the Grand Avenue Bridge). The developer was essentially scared away by public outcry; the Fair Board was denied permission to buy the property and the State Coastal Conservancy purchased the land for restoration, a critical first step in preserving the San Dieguito Lagoon and River Valley.

Obviously the Fairgrounds Board continues to press for more development at this sensitive location even as the Lagoon Restoration Project gears up to restore tidal wetlands and nurseries for ocean going fish, and to enhance bird sanctuaries. The Friends, the Lagoon Committee and the River Park’s Joint Powers Authority have all submitted concerns and issues to be addressed in the EIR. We are also taking the information to nearby homeowners associations so they can respond to calls for community input, and we will continue to keep you informed on this website.

—Ann Gardner



from Friends President, Ann Gardner

Dear Supporters,

On Wednesday, March 30, 2005, the Friends will unveil three interpretive signs at the Grand Avenue Bridge site as part of the Del Mar’s third annual Lagoon Day. Almost 20 years ago, the Fair Board tried to buy the site for a hotel and parking lot. The proposed development sparked public outcry, crystallized plans to save the Lagoon and jumpstarted preservation of land in the San Dieguito River Valley.

FSDRV Board members paint at Grand Ave. Bridge

Thanks to the early efforts and continued support of people such as you, the 55-mile long River Valley Regional Park and a restored Lagoon is becoming a reality. Over 60,000 of the Park’s 80,000 acres are now in public ownership and we expect the lagoon restoration project to get started later this year.

The Friends were incorporated by Alice Goodkind in 1986, just one year before the “Save the Lagoon” campaign erupted. We joined forces with the Del Mar Lagoon Committee, then led by Nancy Weare, organizing opposition to the development and support for the Lagoon. So, it is with great pleasure and a sense of gratitude to these early leaders that we are going to participate in the Lagoon Committee’s Lagoon Day celebration this year (see details below).

We also want to bring you up to date on our efforts during the last 12 months or so. Year 2004 was busy and, with continued pressures for development in North County, 2005 promises to be even busier. We are currently advocating for protection of the River Valley in these situations:

Plans to rezone property in a flood hazard area from residential to commercial;
A proposal to build 60 units on Via de la Ville’s steep hillsides where the hillsides are a recognized River Valley view shed;
The proposed Master Plan update for the fairgrounds and racetrack that includes new electronic signage west of I-5, a conference center and hotel and a new horse training facility on public open space next to the river; and
Sampling of water quality along the River. (In 2004, we discovered and reported unacceptable levels of bacteria to the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board; levels subsequently dropped to zero).

Last year we found it necessary to hire an environmental attorney to help us research and articulate a multiple year-old mitigation agreement and deed restriction so that we could advocate more effectively against a proposed land use. For now, the proposal has been withdrawn. The year before, we spent money to hire landscape architect, Lane Goodkind, to design a more environmentally sensitive site plan for the new learning center on Via de la Valle. Adjacent community groups and the River Park enthusiastically accepted the change. We also financed the first printing of “Birds of the San Dieguito Lagoon”, which cost over $5,000. The popular brochures are distributed to nearby libraries, wild bird centers and are used by schools for field trips to the Lagoon. This year, we plan to finance a much broader water-testing program to monitor the level of bacteria at a number of outlets along the river. Our advocacy activities do have a cost.

But, mostly, you are investing in, what one Board member called, “shoe leather” to obtain site plans, visit locations, shoot photos, attend community meetings, retrieve documents, testify at planning commission and city council meetings and serve on advisory groups representing your interest in protecting the River Valley.

Your contributions, which are approximately $2,000 a year, and a $1,000 grant from the Farmers Market, are the mainstays of our budget. Other fundraising efforts include an art sale that emphasizes local artists and environmental beauty. We incorporated an informational booth this year; both the art and the booth were very successful. We signed up new supporters and made $1,800 after expenses. Later this year, we will hold a silent auction to raise additional funds.

We hope we are meeting your expectations for the Friends. Please don’t hesitate to provide feedback or suggestions at our website,, or to The Friends, P.O. Box 973, Del Mar, CA. 92014.


The Grand Avenue Bridge was built during WWII to support a wartime airfield on the land in the middle of the lagoon. When the Lagoon Restoration Plan called for demolishing the Bridge to protect new nesting areas, Jacqueline Winterer, then President of the Friends, linked an attractive observation deck on the East Coast to the possibility of redesigning the Grand Avenue Bridge as a Lagoon observation/interpretive site. County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price allocated funding for the site’s redesign, including three interpretive signs, and the historic bridge was saved. The unveiling will take place at 3:30 p.m.

Thank you again for your support: with interest, with financial aid and with encouragement. We hope to see you on the 30th.