Coastal Commission Instructs Wetlands Compromise

San Diego County will grow. We have a newly renovated downtown airport. We’ll soon have an expanded bayfront convention center. And the 22nd District Agricultural Association is working to maintain the world-class Del Mar Fairgrounds. As we renovate and grow to meet the demands of our residents and economy, we must look at how existing natural resources—if we consider them assets and let them perform their natural function—can help us do that sustainably.

I testified at the October 11, 2013 California Coastal Commission hearing about just that matter. The dirt lots and golf driving range surrounding the Del Mar Fairgrounds that house overflow parking for the Fair and the Races are in fact home to acres of wetlands. Despite being graded, compacted and parked on year after year, they survive and offer the invaluable service of a natural filter to cleanse water before it heads into the San Dieguito River, the estuary and Pacific Ocean that all lie in a stone’s throw of the property.

Thanks to an historic agreement between the Coastal Commission and the District Agricultural Association (DAA), the DAA will set aside one of those lots (the “South Overflow Lot”) and invest funds to restore that area to its natural abundance. The permit application they submitted to the Coastal Commission includes beautiful plans to do that and the DAA should be commended.

The issue at hand at this hearing was their plan to move all the event and parking activity previously undertaken on the South Overflow Lot to the adjacent “East Overflow Lot.” Along with the San Dieguito Joint Powers Authority and County Supervisor Dave Roberts, I asked the Coastal Commission to approve the permit with an amendment that would set aside the lower third of the East Overflow Lot and allow it to return to its natural wetland state.

I enjoy cotton candy at the fair and 4 o’clock Fridays at the racetrack as much as the next person. But when we build a massive facility upon and adjacent to sensitive waterways, we have a responsibility. And in this case, we have a tremendous opportunity at hand. Rather than pave over a wetland and then engineer mechanical fixes or set aside properties in other areas to somehow “make up for” destroying these, why not let nature’s water filter do its job?

Most of the Coastal Commissioners seem to have been moved to a similar question. They voted (9-2) to continue the matter to their November meeting. Commission Chair Shallenberger urged the parties to work hard to come to an agreement and appear before the Commissioners again soon.

Thanks to leadership from Supervisor Roberts and the San Dieguito Joint Powers Authority–and with a District Agricultural Association that has an opportunity to be a leader in how it uses unique its coastal backdrop–the wetlands, the water they protect and our home where the Turf Meets the Surf, will prosper.