On January 8,the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the California Coastal Commission seeking to block the Del Mar Fairgrounds’ Coastal Development Permit for parking at the fair. The fair needed a permit because the Commission classified parking outside of fair season as “development” in a “wetland.”
After a long series of meetings the Commission finally approved the permit at its November, 2013 meeting. The permit requires the fair to give up a 9.5 acre parking lot, 1,200 parking spots, and turn 70 year old parking lots into wetlands. It also requires the fair to conduct two parking studies and apply for a new permit in ten years—with the goal of eventually phasing out the lot. Despite all of these restrictions—and the fact that law enforcement believes these conditions will exacerbate the fair’s already bad parking issues— the Sierra Club wasn’t satisfied and filed suit.
The Sierra Club argues that the fair does not have the right to continue parking in these areas—which the Coastal Commission’s own ecologist said have very limited habitat value. Another allegation is that the permit fails to protect “significant coastal resources.” Unfortunately for the Club, the Coastal Act defines “significant coastal resources” to not only include habitat but also areas with “significant recreational value,” “significant visitor destination areas,” and “recreational opportunities for low- and moderate-income persons.” The Commission is required to consider the social and economic needs of people and their access to recreation. When there is a conflict between various Coastal Act policies the Commission must take the action that most closely promotes these various goals.
In this case, the Commission weighed the importance of parking lot ponds against the needs of the fair’s 3.5 million annual visitors. It made a reasonable assessment—the needs of these people were more important than the construction of 4.5 additional acres of wetlands. The Sierra Club disagreed and sued the Coastal Commission for not giving the group everything it wanted. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs, and another sign of environmentalist groups’ hold over the Commission, that the club disagrees with these conditions.
1. Lawsuit: upload document