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Where the racetrack meets the road

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 15, 2008


Well,it's race season. The horses are running, gamblers are gambling, and traffic is miserable on Interstate 5. Following tightly upon the heels of the San Diego County Fair, summer in the San Dieguito region has long been a case of seasonal gridlock, delayed gratification, and equine exploitation.

My distaste for horse racing is well known. For the past decade every summer I have written at least one editorial venting about the archaic sport of horse racing. Too much of a bad thing. I don't get it, never will, whatever. But still the races arrive like clockwork. Year after year after year. So we learn to adapt. Or do we?

I speaking of course about the obvious shortcomings of the layout and location of the fairgrounds in relation to the rest of coastal North San Diego County.

The 370 acre fairgrounds were built in Del Mar in 1936 at a time when building in coastal estuaries seemed reasonable. In 1937 the race track was added when Bing Crosby, Pat O'Brien and Paramount Studios built the grandstand needed to host the first meeting at Del Mar. In 1938 the Sante Fe Railroad pulled into the fair grounds to deliver passengers on the daily racetrack special out of Los Angeles.

The rest, as they say, is history.

A once fabled land where the turf meets the surf and Hollywood stars came out to play, the racetrack at Del Mar and the surrounding fairgrounds are as future focused as the memory of Jimmy Durante.

Originally only the railroad and the coast highway connected the fairgrounds and racetrack to everywhere else. That would change after the automobile became king and Interstate 5 was built through Del Mar three decades later.

Well it's now 2008 , and once again change is being proposed for the Del Mar Fairgrounds with the addition of a 4 story, 350 room condominium hotel, a 60,000sqft health club, underground parking, a parking structure, ballroom and new exhibition facilities.

Currently going through the Environmental Impact Report process as required by the California Environmental Quality Act, the 22nd District Agricultural Association (22nd DAA) is proving to be blind to the immediate transportation needs of North San Diego county's coastal residents. In the face of chronic auto related gridlock, the agricultural district has no plans to restore rail service to the fairgrounds as part of its expansion efforts.

This is unacceptable.

When asked about the lack of rail service to the fairgrounds the San Diego Association of Governments and North County Transit District give the stock answer "It's being studied. Maybe sometime in the future."

Well the future is here, and it's ringing in at close to five dollars a gallon. If the fairgrounds are to change and grow they must accommodate unrelenting population pressures and evolve to meet the transportation infrastructure needs of the 21st century into their plans.

This can be done using a bit of 20th century wisdom by restoring rail service to the Del Mar Race track and the fairgrounds with a long over due permanent platform.

Smart growth is wise growth. It's time the 22nd Agricultural Association to get on board.

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