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No decision made to permanently close Del Mar Horsepark, board president says

Del Mar Horsepark
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune

)

The president of the board that oversees the state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds and the nearby Del Mar Horsepark sought to reassure the public on Tuesday, Jan. 12, that the board has made no decision to permanently close the popular horse park, which is home to stables, horse shows and riding schools.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association stunned the equestrian community in December when it abruptly announced the cancellation of all horse shows for 2021 at the horse park, as well as requiring those who board horses at the facility to make other arrangements. At the time, the reason given was related to groundwater issues at the 64-acre site, which is located two miles east of the fairgrounds.

Tuesday marked the first time the reason for the decision, as well as other issues related to potential long-term plans for the horse park property, were discussed in public.

“I want the community to know and understand, this board has not made a decision to permanently close horse park,” said fair board president Richard Valdez at Tuesday’s meeting. “We’ve hit the pause button so we can determine the next steps.”

Valdez also sought to dispel rumors that plans were in the works to change the use of the horse park property. He said there are no plans to convert the horse park to either a homeless shelter or a parking lot, or to sell it to a developer.

The announcement in December raised alarms within the equestrian community that the facility, where generations of San Diegans have learned to ride and compete in competitions, as well as attended major horse shows, could be in peril. Nearly 11,500 people have signed a petition on Change.org, imploring Gov. Gavin Newsom and the fair board – whose members are appointed by the governor – to keep the park open.

And dozens of people spoke over Zoom at Tuesday’s virtual meeting in support of the horse park, as well as sending written comments to the fair board.

Valdez said the fair board’s finances, which have already been decimated by the cancellation of most of its 2020 events due to the Covid-19 pandemic, are in no shape to cover the costs of complying with water quality regulations at the horse park.

The board plans to hold workshop meetings to explore the issues surrounding the horse park and its water quality issues, said Valdez, including whether the equestrian community can help the fair board keep the horse park open.

Many of Tuesday’s speakers said they appreciated the information provided by Valdez and they are willing to support the horse park and its activities. They included residents who learned to ride at the facility or enjoyed attending events there, and the owners of riding schools located at the park.

Tish Quirk, part of a fifth-generation agricultural family and a veteran horsewoman, said the horse park not only provides a setting for equestrian activities, but is an economic engine for the region’s hospitality businesses.

“It’s a treasure that benefits the entire community,” she said.

Del Mar resident Robin Crabtree said, “We want to work with you, we want to help you. We’re here. We just need direction on how we can help.”

While decisions have yet to be made about the horse park’s long-term prospects, Valdez said that for now, all horse-related operations at the horse park must cease. That includes moving the 38 horses now boarding at the facility, and trying to move as many 2021 horse shows as possible from the horse park to the main fairgrounds.

Valdez said state regulators in 2015 established new groundwater standards for horse boarding facilities. After that, environmental groups sued the 22nd DAA to ensure compliance with the new regulations. A waiver by the state allowed the horse park to operate, if the facility stopped holding events with more than 499 horses, Valdez said.

Even with the waiver, he said, compliance with the regulations was estimated to cost about $3 million. However, last April, state regulators notified two horse facilities in Orange County they would have to comply with even stricter rules. Concerned that compliance with the stricter rules would cost an additional $3 million to $5 million, Valdez said, the board decided to curtail operations at the horse park in December.

Valdez and experts working with the fair board also addressed a recent water quality test commissioned at the facility by Friends of the Del Mar Horsepark. The study, released Jan. 8, showed that the horse park does not contribute to contamination of groundwater in the area, supporters said.

Attorney Wayne Rosenbaum said the results, while “very promising,” do not ensure that the horse park complies with state groundwater regulations, and additional testing would be needed.

Those interested in participating in the upcoming workshop meetings on the horse park groundwater issues can send an email to planning@sdfair.com, to receive meeting invitations, fairgrounds officials said.


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