RSF Association backs coalition’s efforts to curtail Surf Cup Sports Park use

Looking down on Surf Cup Sports Park from the residences above.
(Maggie Brown)

The Rancho Santa Fe Association board voted to send a letter to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer that they are concerned about the usage of the Surf Cup Sports fields and the impact it has on neighboring Rancho Santa Fe.

The entrance to the Surf Cup Sports Park on Via De La Valle, formerly known as the polo fields, is 200 feet from the boundary of the Covenant. At the Association board’s Nov. 7 meeting Vice President Mike Gallagher said that while residents may not be in the immediate footprint of the sports park, they are still impacted by the activity on the fields and the city should respond to those concerns.

“This is really an issue about protecting the residents of the Covenant from things like noise pollution and traffic, which is our obligation,” Gallagher said.

Beth Nelson, an 18-year resident of Rancho Santa Fe and member of the San Dieguito Planning Group, brought the issue before the Association board. Nelson is also a member of the Coalition to Preserve the Polo Field Neighborhood, a group that includes immediate neighbors such as the Fairbanks Polo Club Homeowners Association, Whispering Palms and Morgan Run, and representatives from the Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley.

The coalition group is considering legal action and has also brought its concerns before the San Dieguito Planning Group and the Carmel Valley Community Planning board—the topic will be on the agenda of the Carmel Valley group’s next meeting in Jan. 23, 2020 (the group is dark in November and December).

After the San Diego Polo Club’s original 26-year lease on the property expired, San Diego City Council awarded a 28-year lease to Surf Cup Sports in 2016. The polo club is no longer on the property, ceasing operations after the 2018 season.

“The situation has severely worsened since Surf Cup became the primary tenant in 2016,” Nelson said. “The number, size, duration and scope of events has mushroomed.”

Nelson said while it is difficult to get a precise accounting of events at the fields, it is the coalition’s belief that the use has intensified, resulting in traffic and gridlock that threatens public safety, dirt and noise pollution. The group asserts that the property’s grant deed restrictions are being ignored regarding the number of events, commercial activity, amplified sound and the use of high-powered lights to allow nighttime use.

“Surf Cup has stated it wishes to be a good neighbor but its actions belie its words,” Nelson said. “As one neighbor put it, this is a concrete jungle for profit. We believe it’s completely incompatible with the rural nature of our community and a future threat to the Ranch.”

The Fairbanks Polo Club HOA, who now holds the grant deed to the sports fields, sent a cease and desist letter to the city in February, alleging that Surf’s “increased and expanded” use is unauthorized.

The city disagreed with the representation of the use in the cease and desist letter and has asserted that Surf Cup Sports is in compliance.

According to the city’s real estate assets department, there are no restrictions on the number of events that can be held a year, no restriction on the hours of use or any limitations on lighting or amplified sound per the terms of Surf Cup Sports lease or the grant deed.

Surf Cup Sports did not respond to request for comment by press time, however, the club has maintained that the number and size of events has remained consistent for over 20 years. They have stated they are constrained by the number of fields on the property and the quality of their fields—they cannot maintain the integrity of a premiere youth sports facility if it is overused.

Per the terms of the lease, the city collects $240,000 annually in rent from Surf in addition to a 10 percent assessment on events. On its website, Surf Cup Sports said it has an annual economic impact of $185 million.

Christopher Gann, the vice president of the Fairbanks Polo Club HOA, said his association held a vote in which 80 percent of members voted in favor of taking legal action and filing an injunction. However, in a second vote that included the associated costs of $214,500 of pursuing legal action, only 40 percent were in support of a special assessment of $3,900 per home. Gann said following a “horrendous” summer of events and traffic, some residents said they would have voted differently.

Per the Davis Stirling Act for residential developments, the HOA cannot go back for a special assessment vote in the same calendar year—the earliest they would be able to vote again would be in January 2020.

Until then, the larger coalition of neighbors continues to work to gather support and consider its litigation options. Coalition member Sue Carr, who lives above the fields in Polo Point, stressed that the group is not opposed to youth sports or the opportunities that Surf brings, such as its success rates with college scholarships.

“We don’t want to abolish soccer,” Carr said. “We just want them to ratchet it down.”

Gallagher requested that the Association’s letter urges the mayor to meet with the coalition members to find some resolution.

The next scheduled event at the fields is the Surf College Cup Showcase, which will be held Nov. 29 through Dec. 1.