Carmel Valley board to send letter in support of curbing activity at Surf Sports Park

The Surf Sports Park during a recent event.

The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board agreed to send a letter to the city in support of a local coalition that is committed to reducing what they believe to be intensified use at Surf Cup Sports Park.

The Coalition to Preserve the Polo Field Neighborhood contends that the use has increased on the former polo club property on Via De La Valle since Surf Cup Sports took over the lease in 2016, bringing in more events, traffic, noise and kicking up dirt into the surrounding homes. The coalition says that the use at the fields has elevated to a level of commercial use that was never intended for the land, resulting in traffic back-ups that leave residents in neighboring subdivisions blocked in and cause a public safety issue.

“The coalition is not just a few disgruntled neighbors,” said Sue Carr, a neighbor and member of the group that includes the Fairbanks Polo Club Homeowners Association, Whispering Palms, Morgan Run, and representatives from the Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley. “It is thousands of people that are being affected and are disturbed by what’s happening on the polo fields. Our mission as a coalition is to protect, preserve and secure the safety, the peace and the rural character of the polo fields neighborhood.”

The board’s letter, set to be approved next month, will support the coalition’s claim that Surf Sports is in violation of the lease and grant deed. The letter will also include potential solutions for the city to consider such as allowing no amplified sound, no lighting, limiting the number of days and hours of events, limiting the use to kids playing soccer and not to bring in adult leagues.

According to the city, 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. In the city’s perception, Surf Cup Sports is adhering to the lease agreement.

At the board’s Jan. 23 meeting, member Danielle McCallion raised questions about limiting ages to youth not adults as it could exclude an 18-year-old high school student or young college students from playing sports on the fields.

“I can’t personally support not supporting all youth sports, not just soccer, and I’m not sure we should limit it to just youth,” McCallion said. “Why can’t adults recreate?”

Carmel Valley Planning Board Chair Frisco White said he could support asking for no adult sports as the city’s lease is with Surf Cup and they are a youth sports organization.

The Carmel Valley Library meeting room was full with neighbors and members of the coalition although no public comment was taken. The planning board invited Surf to attend the Jan. 23 meeting—they chose not attend but sent a letter to the board to address some of the issues.

“The board will certainly hear tonight that events on the property have increased in size and number, which has had a negative effect on traffic in the area. Both of these pieces of information are incorrect,” the letter stated.

Surf Sports said that while the nature of events on the fields has shifted over the past 30 years, the number of events has stayed consistent.

“Our events have remained exactly the same, attendance-wise, since 1992 due to the simple fact that we can only fit so many athletic fields on the grass, and can only play games during daylight hours,” Surf stated.

Residents said as they left their homes that night, portable lighting lit up the fields for nighttime use, which they allege was adult lacrosse. McCallion also questioned the fact that the number of playing fields have remained the same as on a recent visit she saw where the polo stables had been removed and replaced with new grass fields.

After the San Diego Polo Club ceased operations following its 2018, Surf did remove the barns to create the Surf Training Center which opened in fall 2019. The additional grass fields in that location are used for practices only –in total, about 900 kids are training at the sports park two to four days a week.

“On average, our fields are unused 84% of each day. Our facility is open to the public. We offer much-needed field access for youth sports. We serve local kids and families as well as those across the county,” Surf’s letter stated. “We invest heavily into improving and beautifying our facility. We care about safety, traffic, noise and dust. We’re making a positive contribution to our kids and their families. We believe we are good neighbors and we are always open to reasonable feedback and discussion on how to improve.”

The city of San Diego obtained the polo club land in the early 1980s as part of a deal for development of the nearby community of Fairbanks Ranch. Over the years, a point of contention has been whether the current use of the open space land is allowed in the grant deed.

The Fairbanks Polo Club HOA, which now holds the grant deed to the sports fields, has never given consent for the large assemblages of people or the commercial activity on the fields. The HOA sent a cease and desist letter to the city in February 2019 alleging that Surf’s “increased and expanded” use is unauthorized per the grant deed. The city disagreed with the representation of the use in the cease and desist letter and asserted that they were in compliance.

Carr said many neighbors have asked the city repeatedly to “curtail this deliberate disregard of the surrounding neighborhood and grant deed prohibitions” but all of their requests have fallen on deaf ears as the city stands to gain a “significant windfall” from the use. Per their letter, Surf creates an economic impact to the city of more than $120 million, they are the largest provider of hotel room nights to the city and they are credited with creating over 1,500 jobs in the county.

Carmel Valley Planning Board member Ken Farinsky did not agree with several points in Surf’s letter to the planning board.

“Surf Cup clearly knows there’s a problem because they try to address it with a confusing letter that’s factually incorrect that says they’re the good guys and they’re not doing anything wrong,” Farinsky said. When the city was going through the lease process in 2015-2016 he said Surf’s representative sold it to the planning board by saying two or three fields would be available for the community to use when they were not having events, however, “they’re apparently never not having events.”

Back then, the planning board wrote a letter to the city requesting many of the same things that were being asked of them that night.

“Five years ago we sent a letter to the city and hit all the points that you are making this evening and they didn’t listen to us, so what do you think we are going to do tonight to make them listen?” White asked the group.

Carr said that the coalition is reaching out to neighbors and community boards trying to get support as they work to get an audience with the new mayor and new District 1 city councilperson this year. In November 2019, the Rancho Santa Fe Association sent a letter to the city in support of the cause.

“If our new elected officials will not listen to us, we will have no option but to sue which I think is horrendous and is not what any of us want,” Carr said. “But where do we go when our city won’t even acknowledge us and when laws are being broken?”

In February, the planning board is expected to discuss the issue of the completion of the Coast to Crest Trail that borders the property, which Surf promised to complete as part of the lease. After the lease was awarded, the Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley filed a temporary restraining order and an injunction to prevent all activities on the field and a judge ruled in favor of Surf in both instances. The Friends then sued to overturn the city’s lease and a judge ruled in favor of Surf. The decision was appealed by the Friends and is currently awaiting final judgment.

“We believe this group, having lost repeatedly in the court system, along with a few self-interested neighbors, is resorting to spreading untruths to rally the local community against Surf,” the letter stated.

Surf’s letter stated that the only thing preventing the trail from completion is the lingering lawsuit.