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Coastal Panel to Review New Data : Del Mar Auto Race Permit Put on Hold

Times Staff Writer

The state Coastal Commission has suspended a permit for Grand Prix-style auto racing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds pending an investigation into charges that fair officials illegally deposited fill dirt on a portion of the race course and withheld information from their permit application.

Chuck Damm, the commission’s assistant district director, said his staff is reviewing data provided by fairground officials and their critics, and would decide by Friday whether a hearing on the matter before the state coastal panel is in order.

At the hearing, commission members would consider whether to revoke the permit for the controversial auto racing event, a 10-day affair scheduled to begin Oct. 31. The Del Mar Grand Prix was approved by coastal commissioners in May over the objection of scores of Del Mar residents who expressed concerns over noise and environmental problems.

“It’s a very confusing case, and we’re wading through the material now to decide whether there is something to the allegations,” Damm said. “There are two separate issues--whether the permit should be revoked and whether there were violations (of the state Coastal Act) at the fairgrounds.”

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If there were violations the facility could be subject to fines, Damm said.

The commission’s investigation was initiated by Joe Shirley, a Del Mar builder who lives near the 1.6-mile race course. Shirley, an opponent of the auto race, contends that fairground officials deliberately misled the commission by suggesting that no permanent construction, grading or earth filling would be necessary to accommodate the event.

“The fact of the matter is, there is a substantial amount of grading, a substantial amount of filling, and a substantial amount of permanent construction under way or planned exclusively to make way for the race,” said Shirley, who has photographs that he says document the changes at the fairgrounds.

Specifically, he cites the placement of large amounts of fill dirt on the southwest corner of the property and plans to pave a 175-foot stretch of the course for the high-speed auto race. Fair officials made no reference to either the paving or the fill dirt in their application for a permit to host the event.

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Under the Coastal Act, the “intentional inclusion of inaccurate, erroneous or incomplete information” on a permit application may be grounds for revocation.

“They’ve got fill dirt 48 inches deep right on top of flora and fauna and next to (San Dieguito Lagoon),” Shirley said. “That dirt was dumped there specifically to create a portion of the race course.”

Trish Butler, a consultant who handled the fair’s application to the commission, did not return telephone calls from The Times on Tuesday.

But Damm said the fill apparently was placed on the grounds “to keep that area, an exhibit area, from flooding during high tides. I understand there are some safety concerns about electrical equipment in that section.”

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He added, however, that “we have found no evidence to date that (fairground officials) received a permit for that fill dirt” as required by the Coastal Commission.

In addition to Shirley’s challenge, two lawsuits seeking to block the race--one filed by the City of Del Mar and the other by a group of homeowners who live near the fairgrounds--are pending.

Fairground officials view the race, sponsored by backers of the Long Beach Grand Prix, as a way to raise revenue and increase utilization of the facility. Promoters expect the event to draw peak crowds of 40,000 spectators.


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