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Study verifies ecological damage at park

Study verifies ecological damage at park
Pictured is a path in Fairview Park that abuts the fence between the park and Parsons Field. This path was recently mowed of vegetation by city crews at the request of Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger. It was later widened and topped by a layer of decomposed granite, though who did that unpermitted work remains a mystery.
(Courtesy CITY OF COSTA MESA, Daily Pilot)

An ecologically sensitive vernal pool at Fairview Park was “modified” by some decomposed granite placed over a portion of it, according to a city-commissioned environmental study.

LSA Associates’ six-page report, dated Tuesday, gave recommendations for repairing the damage to Vernal Pool 6, a small portion of which was affected by the decomposed granite (DG) placed onto two paths that converge in Fairview Park’s southeastern edge and go over a small segment of the pool.

The pool, which is between 0.02 and 0.04 acres, is one of several temporary wetlands within Fairview Park. The federally protected habitats host the endangered San Diego fairy shrimp, among other species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — which, based on Fairview Park’s master plan, in 2007 bestowed upon Costa Mesa the authority to protect the fairy shrimp — is reviewing LSA’s report.

It may take two weeks before the federal agency sends back its recommendations.

Those recommendations will then be reviewed by the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee, said Ernesto Munoz, Costa Mesa’s public services director.

The proposed mitigation measures are:

•Leaving Vernal Pool 6 as is, which would allow water to reach the pool via the “permeable” DG;

•Taking out the portion of DG that affected the pool and then restoring that affected portion;

•Leaving the DG intact and recreating the affected portion elsewhere;

•Relocating the pool at least 20 feet away from the school district’s fences.

Each measure includes the installation of two-strand cable railings around the pool, though if it were relocated, the railing would be a minimum of 10 feet beyond the pool’s boundaries.

Most of the recommendations may be satisfactory to Fish and Wildlife officials, the report said. Other than the DG, the pool “showed no evidence of other disturbances,” according to the report.

LSA did not recommend the option of leaving Vernal Pool 6 as is, however.

“Vernal pool-dependent plans and wildlife cannot use the areas affected by the placement of the DG trail,” according to the report. “In addition, these impacts to the vernal pool will require consultation with the [Fish and Wildlife Service] to determine the correct course of action, which may involve restoration and/or mitigation.”

Vernal Pool 5, which is a few feet away from No. 6, was not encroached upon by the DG path, according to the report, but the path did go over a portion of its watershed. The report did recommend some fencing around the pool’s perimeter.

Vernal Pool 7, just south of the Harbor Soaring Society’s runway, “is in a disturbed area of bare ground,” according to the report, which otherwise did not give any mitigation recommendations for that pool. The flat area around Vernal Pool 7 is commonly used as parking during Fairview Park events, such as the summer concert series.

LSA’s report used GPS technology to map the vernal pools.


Brush was ‘mowed’

The consultant’s report comes after a Daily Pilot investigation in August that reported concerns from local environmentalists that Vernal Pool 6 was adversely affected by the DG placed along the two paths.

One of the paths is nearly 400 feet long and runs east-west along the fence line between the park and Parsons Field.

Before the DG was placed, at some point in May, city crews “mowed” along the fence line to keep the weeds down, according to city emails from May and June acquired by the Pilot.

Clearing the path’s brush came at the request of Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, who asked Munoz in one of the emails if there was a way to clear the path and make it more defined.

By mid-June, city officials discovered that the DG was placed on the east-west trail and another one near it that runs north-south along the fence between Fairview Park and Jim Scott Stadium.

City officials have said both trails are considered “user-defined,” meaning they have appeared over time from frequent use. They also cited aerial maps showing the two paths have been there, in some form, for decades. The north-south path may also have emerged in the years since the 2008 opening of Jim Scott Stadium.

Groups that are known to frequent the area — Costa Mesa United, Pop Warner football and the Harbor Soaring Society — have denied placing the granite on the trail.

Munoz and other city employees make clear in the emails reviewed by the Pilot that they do not know with certainty who put down the DG.

However, they have said they think it was a group of volunteers or a “booster club,” and that some residents routinely help with clearing brush.

When asked if he knew who placed the DG, Mensinger said he agreed with the city’s presumption.

“It was probably volunteers,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that this is being politicized at the expense of a path that’s used by kids to get to school and get to practice. The council majority has engaged a biologist to work with Fish and Game to find ways to delineate this path and the other non-approved additions to the park.”

Whoever did the work may not have been aware of the vernal pools or their ecological significance. Signage in the area telling of its biological significance is relatively scarce. Until a few weeks ago, most of the Fairview Park’s vernal pools, including Vernal Pool 6, were marked only on paper and not properly delineated in accordance with the park’s master plan.

Munoz, the public services director, has also acknowledged that the unpermitted DG is one of several aspects within Fairview Park’s 208-acre spread that have been created without the officially required permission. He cited some stairs carved into the bluffs or mounds used by BMX bikers.

As of Wednesday afternoon, a few of the yellows flags placed weeks ago by LSA’s biologists to delineate Vernal Pool 6 were missing.

Some were trampled into the trail. A tattered piece of another was in Parsons Field, moved there by the frequent winds or possibly one of the schoolchildren who frequent the area, naive of the debate within the weeds.

In keeping with what was pointed out by a biologist in the mid-1990s, Vernal Pool 6 also contained a few pieces of trash. Among the dry brush was a dusty Pop-Tart wrapper, an empty candy canister and a smashed plastic soda cup from Taco Bell. The possible receipt for the drink — a medium Pepsi, easy on the ice — was a few feet away, nestled against the fence.