City to rope off Fairview vernal pool

Costa Mesa's chief executive Friday acknowledged an inadvertent encroachment on a sensitive habitat within Fairview Park and said the city is taking steps to protect the area.

Beginning Monday, temporary roping will be placed around Vernal Pool 6 and a park ambassador will redirect users and children who frequent the area en route to school or sports practice, said city CEO Tom Hatch.

A portion of that small vernal pool — a kind of temporary wetland that hosts the endangered San Diego fairy shrimp, among other species — was recently damaged by a trail topped by decomposed granite, Hatch said.

The work, finished in either May or June, was done without permission. No parties known to use the area, including Costa Mesa United and Pop Warner football, have claimed responsibility.

The trail in question, roughly 400 feet long and 8 feet wide, runs east and west along the fence line separating the park from Parsons Field.

City officials have labeled it "user-defined," meaning it appeared over years of use. They also said various volunteers have routinely helped to clear brush there.

"The vernal pool ... was officially identified about two decades ago, but we as a city had not taken steps to protect the area," Hatch said. "When concerns arose about this neglected habitat, it was a reminder to all of us of our duty to be proper stewards of this jewel of a park."

His announcement comes after a Daily Pilot investigation in August that reported environmental concerns surrounding the vernal pools, the fairy shrimp and allegedly illegal work done within Fairview Park.

Earlier this week, emails obtained by the Pilot also showed that city crews "mowed" the trail of weeds at the request of Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger.

Mensinger agreed with city employees' assertion that it was probably volunteers from a booster group who worked on the trail.

"It's unfortunate that some folks have chosen to politicize a dirt path for kids," Mensinger said.

A city-commissioned biologist recently examined Vernal Pool 6 and other pools within the 208-acre park. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which in 2007 gave the city the authority to protect the fairy shrimp, is examining that report and will give its recommendations within about two weeks.

The Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee and others are scheduled to discuss restoration options for the pond.

A "trail plan" will also be brought before the advisory committee, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the City Council, Hatch said. He also called for group training on the "environmentally sensitive nature of the area."

"I've always been impressed with the love and commitment that everyone has for Fairview Park," Hatch said. "In recent days, this observation has been underscored repeatedly. These issues that have surfaced will, in the end, make Fairview Park better, with protected vernal pools, a better educated public, more park volunteers and a revised trail system to serve the park's increasing number of visitors."

[For the record, Sept. 9: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger said he did not know who put down a decomposed granite trail in Fairview Park. In fact, Mensinger said he agreed with city employees, who said it was members of a volunteer booster organization.]

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