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EDITORIAL: Compromised Commission

There are very good reasons to support the lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club challenging what the 22nd DAA calls a “compromise” by the Coastal Commission allowing the fairgrounds to park cars on the wetlands on the East Overflow Lot (EOL). But a few short years ago, the Coastal Commission took enforcement action against the 22nd DAA for its long history of violations of the Coastal Act, particularly with regard to the illegal grading, filling, and parking on the on-site wetlands in the east and south parking lots.

The Commission’s enforcement action was memorialized in a Cease and Desist Order and Restoration Order. In the orders the 22nd DAA admitted its illegal activities. These orders memorialized the many remedial measures the 22nd DAA was required to undertake as penance.These orders included the requirement to identify, to Coastal Commission standards, all on-site wetlands in the EOL and, once identified, to undertake restoration and preservation activities. Calling the issuance of these orders a “compromise” is a nice spin job by the 22nd DAA, a bit like a criminal who enters a plea bargain and then calls his conviction a “compromise.”

The wetlands protection measures of the Coastal Act and of the enforcement orders were and are of major importance to the environmental community, So it was with great dismay that the Sierra Club, the JPA and others saw these provisions of the orders gutted by a Commission decision to allow parking in the wetlands on the EOL. The Commission staff had acknowledged that parking was not a use allowed by the Coastal Act, but proposed allowing temporary parking to continue with longer term restoration of the wetlands in the EOL. This real compromise was supported by County Supervisor Dave Roberts and the San Dieguito River Valley JPA. It would have allowed the 22nd DAA to park long term on the northern 2/3 of the EOL while protecting the 1/3 closest to the lagoon. Unfortunately, that appropriate compromise was rejected by the 22nd DAA and by the Coastal Commission for what appeared to be political reasons.

The lawsuit maintains that the Coastal Commission decision violated its own legal charter and the law which limit very strictly what can be done in wetlands and does not allow filling or parking. The Commission has a long history of correctly applying these rules by denying the requests of other public and private parties for similar non-allowed uses in wetlands, and it is surprising, and disappointing, that the Commission created an exception for the 22nd DAA.

We hope that other interested entities will step up to support the Sierra Club lawsuit. Certainly there are important interests here for the California Fish and Game Department and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Another entity we can ask to voice support is the Regional Water Quality Control Board whose mission is to “preserve the beneficial uses of the waters of the United States.”

heir authority derives from the federal Clean Water Act. Beneficial uses includes recreation as well as removal of toxic wastes and other pollution. Allowing the Fair Board to continue to prevent the beneficial uses by disrupting and blocking the wetlands and the original path of the San Dieguito River comes squarely in the purview of the Water Control Boards, State and Regional.

We have been guardedly optimistic that the Coastal Commission enforcement orders and the 22nd DAA’s agreement to comply therewith would usher in a more cooperative relationship with nearby entities and finally bring the required protection to the fragile estuary on which almost $90 million was recently spent for restoration. This proposed phony compromise tells us we need to keep our guard up.

 

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