More Trouble for San Diego Fairy Shrimp

A little bit of redesign could save four, maybe even nine, vernal pools that house the endangered San Diego fairy shrimp. Vernal pools are unique seasonal wetlands found in southwestern coastal California and northwestern Baja California, Mexico. Vernal pools used to cover over 200 acres of San Diego, but 95-98% of that habitat has been destroyed. Although San Diego fairy shrimp are not easy to see, they play an imporant role in our environment. They eat smaller vernal pool organisms and are eaten by birds and toads. We will lose a key player in the food chain if San Diego fairy shrimp are not protected.

San Diego Coastkeeper has closely followed two projects that will greatly impact the San Diego fairy shrimp and its sensitive habitat: Brown Field Metropolitan Airpark in Otay Mesa and Castlerock near the San Diego/Santee border. 

Castlerock-MapLast Thursday was a particularly rough day for San Diego fairy shrimp because the San Diego Planning Commission approved the Castlerock project. The project plans to develop almost 204 acres of land belonging to the City of San Diego into over 400 single-family homes, but before construction begins the land may be annexed to the City of Santee. The project also plans to destroy four vernal pools that house San Diego fairy shrimp. Adding those vernal pools to the five that will be destroyed by Brown Field Metropolitan Airpark makes a total loss of nine vernal pools with San Diego fairy shrimp. 

One of Coastkeeper’s concerns about the Castlerock project is that the developer plans to destroy four vernal pools with San Diego fairy shrimp and preserve vernal pools without them. The developer plans to rebuild vernal pools to house San Diego fairy shrimp near the preserved pools. But if that habitat were suitable for San Diego fairy shrimp wouldn’t they already be living there? At the Planning Commission hearing, Commissioner Quiroz echoed our concern about relocating the San Diego fairy shrimp; she even mentioned that the relocation process seemed “backward.” 

Coastkeeper asked the Planning Commission to consider sending the project back for redesign to remove four houses from the project’s design. Eliminating those four houses would reduce the project by less than 1% and would completely avoid the vernal pools with San Diego fairy shrimp. But the Commission approved the project four votes to two with Commissioners Quiroz and Wagner voting against the project and Commissioner Peerson recusing herself.

After providing comment at the Planning Commission meeting, Coastkeeper’s next step is to ask the San Diego City Council to require the developers, of both Brown Field Metropolitan Airpark and Castlerock, to redesign the projects to avoid the vernal pools. The City Council hearing for Brown Field Metropolitan Airpark is at 2 p.m. on September 9. The City Council hearing date for Castlerock has not been set yet, but Coastkeeper will post the details when they become available.