Archives: News 2008


Progress report on the San Dieguito Lagoon Restoration as of October 2008

Good news about the San Dieguito Lagoon Restoration: a large subtidal basin created over the old Del Mar airport teems with fish and invertebrates. So far, the restoration of the lagoon proceeds successfully under the effective leadership of Southern California Edison (SCE), helped by an excellent contactor, Marathon Construction. Most of this work has taken place on land owned by the San Dieguito River Valley Joint Powers Authority (JPA) and the project progressed rapidly during last year’s mild winter season. At present, restoration efforts are concentrated north of the river and east of I-5. A mile-long berm is complete and a large wetland is taking shape.

Less dramatic in its visual impact but eagerly awaited by the public, a segment of the Coast to Crest Trail nears completion east of the Boardwalk. Heading east, the trail follows the southern edge of the Fairgrounds, crosses under the freeway and reaches the old Strawberry stand on San Andres Road.

The situation west of Jimmy Durante Boulevard is fundamentally different. The JPA does not own any this land and has to rely on the good will of the adjacent jurisdictions to complete the project: the westerly passage of the Coast to Crest Trail and the dredging of the San Dieguito river inlet. The land is owned by City of Del Mar and the Fairgrounds on either side of the river. The State Land Commission has jurisdiction of the San Dieguito River bed and near banks.
A pioneer trail, created by our City under the guidance of the Lagoon Committee, follows the southern bank of the river and gives hikers access to the ocean along a trail that does not meet the Coast to Crest Trail standards and does cross over the railroad track ...  illegally. The beginning of a northern river-bank trail segment is proposed in the upcoming Fairgrounds Environmental Impact Report. Planned within the river’s 100 foot buffer zone it would require approval by the Coastal Commission. West of the Fairgrounds property, the JPA is working on an engineering study to complete the trail westward toward the ocean.

Dredging the inlet under the railroad bridge is a challenge. This bridge was built around 1887 at the time of the opening of the railroad and appears to be the same bridge that we have today. It is supported by 456 pilings and spans not only the river but part of wetlands to the north.

As a consequence of dredging the lagoon inlet, the old bridge pilings would be submitted to enhanced tidal flow and greater attack by timber borers. North County Transit District, owner of the bridge, is actively working with SCE on a plan whereby the pilings impacted by the tidal flow would be wrapped in a protective layer of metal near the water line to inhibit marine borers.

So, while the restoration progresses very well, major challenges remain.

Jacqueline Winterer
President of the Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley


MAY 2005

22nd Agricultural District Master Plan NOP/EIR (5/09/08)

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 and electronic signage at Interstate 5.

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 progresses in restoring tidal wetlands and nurseries for ocean-going fish, and in enhancing 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. 

The Notice of Preparation (NOP) for the 2008 Master Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was issued in late March. The following links, to the Ag District’s own web site, show the details of the proposed changes:

NOP08 - Introduction (PDF)
NOP08 - Aerial View (PDF)
NOP08 - Additional Information (PDF)
NOP08 - Near Term Projects (PDF)
NOP08 - Long Term Projects (PDF)
NOP08 - Hotel Complex (PDF)

The Friends' Response to the NOP/EIR
The Coastal Commission's Initial Response to the NOP/EIR (PDF)
SD District Attorney Aguirre's Response to the EIR (PDF)



FSDRV President's Message - Spring 2008 

Spring, 2008

Dear Friends,

We have been a voice for the preservation of the San Dieguito River Valley since 1986. Your support will allow us to continue. Some of our recent activities include:


The Friends operated, for one year, a Bus Tour of the San Dieguito Lagoon, thanks to Del Mar Community Connections who let us use their bus. For 2008, three docents are available for groups who wish to provide their own transportation.

Forty-two docents will work at a San Dieguito Trail exhibit at the 2008 Del Mar Fair.

With Del Mar Rotary, we are helping to complete the trail extending the Boardwalk.


Following are our current major concerns:

We responded the Del Mar Fairgrounds Master Plan Notice of Preparation of an EIR:

asking for the return of the E and S lots to their wetland status
opposing an electronic reader board along Interstate 5
questioning other projects which will intensify the impact on the Lagoon. 

We support a reduced Flower Hill Shopping Center expansion.
We support plans to improve traffic flow on Via de la Valle without jeopardizing the valley’s rural nature.


As members of the River Parks Project Review Committee, we diminished negative impacts on the Park in the following way:
The numbers of units in the Pardee residential project on the south side of El Camino Real has been reduced.

The Cavallo Farms project has agreed to move a projected road away from Gonzales Canyon and will relocate a large building away from the ridge line.

Your contribution will help us cover our expenses: publishing pamphlets, distributing information, maintaining our mail-box, website and other public outreach activities.  (Because we are an advocacy group, contributions are not tax deductible.) 

Contributors of $100.00 or more will receive a set of cards reproducing Julie Hillman’s paintings of the San Dieguito Lagoon.
Contributions may be sent to:  FSDRV,  P.O. Box 973,  Del Mar,  CA  92014 

As always, we are grateful for your support.

Jacqueline Winterer, President


APRIL 2008

Update on Fairbanks Ranch Country Club Lease (4/26/08)


April 26, 2008

William Anderson, Director
City Planning and Community Investment
202 C St., MS 5A
San Diego, CA. 92101

Dear Mr. Anderson,

The undersigned representatives are respectfully drawing your attention to an unacceptable situation: One of the City's lessees is refusing to pay its rent for the use of public open space in the San Dieguito River Valley and, beyond issuing a report that the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club is delinquent, the financially strapped City of San Diego appears to be letting the matter drop.

Our question is: Why?

In 1982, the City of San Diego entered into a controversial agreement with Watts Industries to build housing in excess of what the zoning then allowed, in exchange for 600 acres of deeded public open space.  Six months later, the City leased 2/3 of  the land back to the developer to create a private country club rent-free until 2010, or until the Club membership sales exceeded 25 million dollars.  That threshold was crossed in 2003 but the Club continues to baulk at paying even this amount and the financially strapped City of San Diego continues to put up with it.  

Our question is: Why?

Almost one year ago, the City's Revenue Audit Division issued a report indicating that the Country Club had failed to pay rent due to the City for the period January 1, 2004 through December 31, 2006 amounting to over $169,000.  According to the City's Property Agent, no payments have made since then and the matter was referred to an advisory attorney in the City Attorney's Office to determine the next step.  As of today, no action has been taken.

Our questions is: Why?

The undersigned representatives sit on the San Dieguito River Park Citizens Advisory Committee and are concerned about land use issues in the River Valley. We hope by means of this letter you will look into the matter and get back to us.   Please contact Ann Gardner at (858) 755-6061 or by mail at 12971 Via Latina, Del Mar, CA 92014 regarding our question.

Thank you for your attention and assistance,

Ann Gardner, Dick Barber
Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley Audubon Society
Palomar Chapter

Carol Carr
San Diego County Bicycle Coalition Deborah DeBow
California Native Plant Society-SD

Cc:  Scott Peters, President 
San DiegoCity Council 

NOP Fairgrounds - FSDRV Response - (4/22/08)

From: J. M. Winterer and Ann Gardner           
Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley

Re: Comments on the NOP of a Draft Environmental Impact Report on for the proposed 22d DAA 2008 Master Plan.

Issues we wish to be analyzed by the EIR are marked by bullets (*): 


The current figure 1 (NOP for the EIR ) downplays the importance of public access to this coastal area and ends up disregarding many critical environmental concerns relating to public access to Coastal resources.

*  The location of the project should be shown on a regional map (larger than the NOP Figure 1 Page 20)  identifying the unique natural resources of the area that might be impacted: the 405-acre Fairground is framed and dwarfed by the 600 acres of properties owned or operated by the San Dieguito River Valley JPA and the California Department Fish and Games , a 22d DAA sister State agency. 

*  Also, on an enlarged regional Figure 1, we urge you to add to the Fairgrounds properties a clear identification of the San Dieguito Lagoon Restoration Project, wetland delineations (see our attachment 1: from the California Coastal Commission) on the Fairgrounds, the San Dieguito River Park including the location of its interpretive Center, the public trails identified as part of as the Park's Coast to Crest Trail system:
        * River Path, south of the River, facing the Fairgrounds
        * Coastal Boardwalk, southern edge of the South Lot and
        * The Crest Canyon Preserve Loop

* The observation platforms on the Boardwalk and at the Grand Avenue Bridge

The EIR must develop its plan in the framework of the California Coastal Act Section 30240 statement: “ Environmentally sensitive habitats areas shall be protected against significant disruptions of habitat values, and only uses dependent on those resources shall be allowed in this area.”

NORTH and SOUTH LOTS  Long Term:

Past correspondence between the State Land Commission documents that the State of California has jurisdiction and authority over all un-granted tidelands, submerged lands, and the beds of … rivers, sloughs… (See attachment 2:  letter from California  State Lands Commission to K. Giugno Consultant to the 22d DAA on Master Plan NOP). 

It is the opinion of this organization that the South lot and part of the East Lot are both historical and documented historical as well as presently active wetlands as defined in the Coastal Act: “Wetlands means lands within the coastal zone which may be covered periodically or permanently with shallow water and include saltwater marshes, freshwater marshes, open or closed brackish water marshes, swamps, mudflats and fens.”  Appendix 3:  a, b, c and 4 maps and photographs document this position.

*  The EIR should explain why it plans to make permanent use of the wetlands when repeated Coastal Commission  decisions oppose such use.

* The EIR should explain the future use of the Golf Driving Range, clearly a historical and present day wetland: see attachments 3a and 4.

NORTH and SOUTH LOTS  Short Term:

* This EIR should provide copies of the ORIGINAL documentary evidence that the Fairgrounds is permitted to use the wetlands properties during the Fair and Racing season as it claims.

* As it will take time to recover the wetlands at the edge of the Fairgrounds the EIR should address, the issue of the non-permitted use of these lots must be discussed (This is documented by the Coastal Commission Staff Report :Application 6-02-161 Adopted  08/08/2003) . The Fairgrounds has significantly expanded the use of these lots year around, 159 days more than the permitted use, an increase of 900 % in 2002.

* The EIR should analyze how the expanded use of these parking areas impacts the adjacent sensitive habitats of the San Dieguito River as required in the California Coastal Act  Section 30231 which requires that biological productivity and quality of the wetlands be maintained or enhanced.


The EIR should explain why the plan includes a two- sided electronic Reader Board along the freeway, when there is specific Federal legislation prohibiting such displays. Adjacent property owners along the I-5 corridor have been mindful of this legislation and respected its intent. The NOP states that the Fairgrounds property is owned by the State of California and not obliged to comply with local and zoning or general plans. But the prohibition of signage along freeways is a Federal law.

* Why doesn't the 22d DAA believe that it should not obey Federal laws? Does it plan to apply for an exemption? On what grounds?


The California Coastal Act Section 30251 states that:
“ The scenic and visual qualities of Coastal Areas shall be considered and protected as a resource of public importance. Permitted development shall be sighted and designed to protect views to and along the ocean and scenic coastal areas … to be visually compatible with the character of surrounding areas, and where feasible, to restore and enhance the visual quality of the degraded areas.”

The following features of the project are in marked contrast with the spirit of the Coastal Act:

* Numbers derived from the limited sketches provided in the NOP indicate that the project plans to build a continuous Hotel/Exhibit Hall building 1/3 a mile long and 5 stories (66.5 feet high)  to 7 stories ( 86.5 feet high). This assumes 12 feet is the standard height for a commercial building. This is a major wall!

* The project will locate its service road along the river, ignoring the scenic value of the     location.
The 60,000 sq.ft health cub ,75 feet high, is that of  6 story building in close proximity to wetlands. It offers recreational facilities totally unrelated to the coastal area.

* The EIR should provide (three-dimensional) elevation drawings as part of the EIR process (visuals) and plan to also erect storey poles to allow the public and the Coastal Commission to understand the visual impact of these structures on the environment and nearby preserves which are meant to provide a natural river/coastal/wetland environment.


* The EIR should analyze, as an alternative, a location of the major parking structure on the west side of Jimmy Durante Blvd. to minimize the impact on the wetlands.  

* The EIR should analyze several probable scenarios when concurrent Fairgrounds events occur and the cumulative numbers of parking slots becomes an issue . These numbers must include parking for the staff which has no way to reach the Fairgrounds by public transportation.


* The EIR should discuss how the ever expanding schedule of major events will impact residential ingress and egress as well as public access to beach amenities in Del Mar (2.5 miles of sandy beaches with public restrooms and showers, a public bluff park with bluff-top walks to Torrey Pines State Beach). Described as one of the most beautiful destinations along the western coastline and to the San Dieguito River Park visitors amenities including the Grand Avenue Bridge observation deck and the 3 trails mentioned above. All of these regional amenities and public trail access are made inaccessible by increased traffic congestion during non- coastal related activities.

* The California Coastal Act as well as numerous local Community Plans emphasize the importance of preserving the San Dieguito River basin's recreation/open space potential. i.e.“ the highest priority in considering land use issue.” A specific goal of the Coastal Act is to “assure priority for coastal development  and coastal-related development over other development on the coast. The EIR must explains how this goal is achieved with sports structures and deck which can be developed anywhere and have no relationship to the coast.


This Master Plan EIR will represent the built-out phase of the Fairgrounds and should explain why all the development will occur in the short term and most of the service and environmental measures are long range plans.

Jacqueline Winterer, President
Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley           
289 Ocean View Ave                   
Del Mar CA 92014  

Ann Gardner, Vice President
Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley 
12971 Via Latina   
Del Mar CA 92014                        


The latest audit of the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club reveals that the Club has not paid rent owed to the financially-strapped City of San Diego for the period January 1, 2004 through December 31, 2006.  According to the City’s Office of the Auditor and Comptroller, the Club, which leases approximately 400 acres from the City, was in arrears almost $170,000 as of December 2006 and the matter has been referred to the City Attorney’s Office for advisement.  Actions to be considered include a decision about whether to find the Club in default of their lease, or to refer of the matter to the City’s delinquent bill collection unit in the Treasurer's Office.

The Club's lease, referred to as a "sweetheart deal" by the San Diego Union Tribune 2005 exposé, has been controversial since its approval in 1982, when  developer Ray Watt enticed the City, in a close Council vote, to allow him to build 340 homes where only 128 had previously been allowed in exchange for deeding 615 acres of the land as public open space.  Months later he leased back two-thirds of the property for 61 years in order to build a private golf course with no rent due to the City, beyond an initial $3,000, until 2010 unless the club's membership sales were to exceed $25 million dollars.   In 2003, when the membership sales exceeded that threshold, the Club refused to start paying the City, claiming a technicality in the agreement.  A late payment of $60,004 was made "under protest" in March 2005 but, as of this writing, no further payments have been made despite an outstanding balance of $169,400.  The current dispute notwithstanding, the lease will require that the Club begin paying its rent, a graduated percentage of its gross revenues, in 2010.

Money owed to the City is not the only issue with the FRCC lease. According to the Endangered Habitat League, the Club has failed to fulfill the mitigation requirements contained in the original agreement with Watt.  The Club claims that the requirements are not their responsibility.  

Additionally, the Friends and the River Park Joint Powers Authority have repeatedly pointed out that construction and maintenance of a public trail on the north side of the river is part of the lease with the City and therefore the Club's responsibility. The FRCC also refuses to recognize this agreement.  Unfortunately, the public trail has been graded and disked by another of the City’s lessees, the Fairbanks Polo Club, and used as an exercise track for their polo ponies. The illegal grading and use of the northern river bank is currently under a 2005 cease-and-desist order issued by the City. 

Last August, the Friends Board was asked to review a proposal submitted by the FRCC that would turn back to the City one-third of the leasehold in exchange for an extension of the lease on the remaining property.  The Board responded in a white paper that the "...City should not be unduly hasty in its consideration of the proposal without a thorough, environmentally fiscally responsible review."  

The Friends have always maintained that the long-term goal for this property should be, first and foremost, conservation of the San Dieguito River Valley, a unique and valuable but rapidly diminishing habitat in California. It is the Board’s position that the acreage currently leased by the FRCC should be returned to public open space, as originally promised by Watt.  Since the Club, in refusing to pay its rent, has violated the terms of a legally binding agreement, perhaps the public will not have to wait until 2044 for this "sweetheart deal" to be terminated and the land can be returned to its rightful use.

April, 2008



A Landmark Event at the Lagoon (2/6/08)

By Jacqueline Winterer, President of the Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley,   February 2008

On January 23 we watched intently as a large back-hoe scooped away a narrow dam holding the waters of the 45-acre tidal basin dug out by Marathon Construction crews hired by Southern California Edison(SCE), thereby opening an extensive new area of the lagoon to the ebb and flow of beneficial tidal waters. This landmark event heralded major progress in the San Dieguito River Valley Joint Powers Authority/ SCE efforts to restore severely degraded wetlands.

Historic Wetlands

At the end of the 19th century, the San Dieguito Lagoon was a thousand-acre wetland that included salt and brackish marsh, tidal embayments, sloughs and mudflats that were progressively developed for a variety of commercial and residential uses.  

In the 1930’s some of the lagoon wetlands on the North of the San Dieguito River were filled and became a golf course, encouraged by the State of California Swamp Reclamation Act. After 4 years, saltwater intrusions caused abandonment of the golf course.

In 1933, California legalized on-track wagering on horse races. The State’s share of revenues was intended to support fairground operations and contribute to training youth in agricultural and animal husbandry. The golf course was purchased by the State Division of Fairs and Expositions and on October 8, 1936, Bing Crosby founded the Del Mar Turf Club and the first harness race took place.

South of the river, the Navy established an emergency landing field in the late 1920’s. That property was later developed as a municipal airport to serve the racing patrons at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The Airport during WW II

In 1941, after Pearl Harbor, the US Navy re-acquired this airport to use as a landing field. As the field could not accommodate traditional aircraft, the U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air facility used it as a base for two lighter- than-air dirigibles. The blimps refueled at Del Mar and then continued anti-submarine patrols up and down the coast up to 100 miles offshore. The Grand Avenue Bridge off San Dieguito Drive was built at that time to provide access to the blimp airport.

During WW II the Fairgrounds buildings became barracks, galleys and mess halls, officers recreational facilities and classrooms.
In September 1945, the naval facility was disestablished and the fairgrounds and racetrack were returned to their earlier use. The Navy retained ownership of the airfield until 1947 when  80 acres were quitclaimed to San Diego County for one dollar.

1946 Onward

The airfield site became a municipal airport until it was closed 1959 as the construction for Interstate 5 bisected the runway. Various businesses occupied the old airport buildings; a motel with 12 rooms, Tony’s Jacal, a worm-castings business, a duck-shooting club.

In 1953, the western part of the airfield was leased by Andrew Kay’s  Non Linear Systems. The buildings were converted into a manufacturing plant for digital voltmeters. This company produced the “Kaypro” one of the first personal computers. After Kaypro moved to Solana Beach in 1968 the site was unused.

Saving the Lagoon

Attempts, to save, and restore the San Dieguito Lagoon, date back to the 1970’s 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, Bircher-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 Power 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 Bircher 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.
 Thirty 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.