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Surf Cup Sports aims to be good neighbors at polo field

Surf Cup Sports soccer action at the polo field.
Surf Cup Sports soccer action at the polo field.
Karen Billing

Surf Club Sports has officially taken over the polo field, finalizing a lease with the city of San Diego for the next 25 years. Since 1992, Surf had been a sublessee of the San Diego Polo Club; Surf aims to continue to be responsible stewards of the city asset, support the community with a total of $1.1 billion in regional economic benefit over the 25-year term of the lease, as well as providing “the best of the best” in youth soccer.

Per the terms of the lease, the city will get an increase in rent of $240,000 a year, plus a 10 percent assessment on events.

As they have taken over, representatives from Surf Cup Sports have done a lot of outreach with the community. They held three open houses at the field last week and have met with groups such as the Fairbanks Polo Club Homes, Fairbanks Ranch Association, Fairbanks Stratford Homeowners Association and Rancho Del Mar Homeowners Association.

At an open house on July 20, Surf Cup Soccer Director of Operations Rob Haskell said they are committed to building positive relationships with neighbors.

Representatives were able to clear up misconceptions over whether there will be a “mega sports complex” on the property or that there will be no more polo.

As Surf Cup has stated, permanent structures are prohibited on the land and there will be no intensification of use.

Polo will not end at the property, Haskell said. The San Diego Polo Club ceased to be an operating entity as of April 1, however, since then, polo on the property has been financed by Surf Cup Sports, which picked up all of the polo club staff. The 2016 polo season will be completed as scheduled and will continue year-round with a new arena program instead of just seasonally.

Neighbors and groups such as the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board have expressed concerns about the change to 25 events per year from 25 event days per year allowed in the grant deed.

Haskell said they have never approached the level of use of 25 events a year and couldn’t even if they wanted to.

“Grass is a very valuable, finite resource,” Haskell said. “Overusing our grass would only hurt the facility. Our goal is to have premier events not just to have events. We want the best events.”

There were eight events in 2015 and Haskell said the number and size of events has remained consistent for over 20 years. The recent Adrenaline Lacrosse tournament in June was two and a half days and counted as one event. The Surf Cup tournament this year has been shortened to just two days per weekend, starting July 31.

After the summer Surf Cup, the next event won’t be until an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in October, followed by fall soccer tournaments.

One resident of the Fairbanks Polo Club Homes said he did not believe that the use has remained consistent.

“The last two years it got supercharged,” he said. “I live this every day. It wasn’t that way when I first bought my home three and a half years ago. The use of the field has grown in my opinion.”

Bryan Thistle, Surf Cup Sports general counsel, said that the soccer club has not grown — there were 1,080 kids in the club three years ago and this year and last year there were 990 kids.

The practice schedule has also remained consistent, Thistle said. Monday through Thursday teams are practicing from around 3 p.m. to dusk and there are games played on the fall weekends.

“Out of 365 days a year, 280 days a year there will be some use,” estimated Surf Soccer President Jeremy McDonald, noting that “use” could mean a four-horse polo practice or 10 kids practicing soccer on the entire 122 acres.

“Counting daylight hours only, the facility is empty 82 percent of the time,” Haskell said.

Neighbors have also complained about the traffic.

Haskell acknowledged that they have been running cars down the dirt road on the property more due to them using a new traffic pattern through the back gate off Via de la Valle.

The city received numerous complaints about traffic on El Camino Real and as the El Camino Real gate is owned by the 22nd Agricultural District, it isn’t actually a legal entrance. The city has also barred Surf Cup from using the vacant lot off Via de la Valle due to complaints made to code compliance —Surf Cup has not been able to use it for parking since January and will not be using it for the Surf Cup tournament next weekend. The whole Surf Cup configuration has had to change as a result.

Neighbors complained that due to the new traffic pattern, they can’t get out of their homes onto Via de la Valle and that the traffic back-ups have been “unbearable.”

“That will go away,” Haskell said, noting they are making improvements to the back gate, making the entrance bigger and putting another lane to turn. “The back-up will be non-existent because people won’t have to slow down as much to make that jack-knife turn. There will be a dedicated in and out and it will be a lot smoother, safer and faster.”

At the town hall, residents in the surrounding community reminded Surf Cup that the river valley is very quiet — “if a bird flies down here, we hear it.” A suggestion was made to keep noise impacts in mind, residents adding that they would love it if the club fixed the noisy muffler on an old truck as they can hear it from their homes every time it is driven.

Those kinds of suggestions are just what the club is looking for, Haskell said.

“Every time I make a decision in planning an event I keep in mind what I would want if I lived here,” Haskell said. “We want to be good neighbors.”