Horsepark: Incompetence, Corruption or Laziness?

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Listening in on the 22nd DAA board meetings (latest was the one on March 9), you get a distinct feeling that the blind are leading the blind. No one on staff or the board appears to express any knowledge of equestrian activities. 

Capital Improvements

During the board meeting, it got the level of farcical when Dustin Fuller, supervising environmental planner, listed seven capital improvement projects for Horsepark. There was zero push back or discussion from the board about these items.

22nd DAA March 9 board meeting slide

A second covered arena??? Covered arenas are a rarity in the horse world for two reasons. One, they are ridiculously expensive. Since they are so expensive, there had better be a good reason to build one, such as wanting to show during the dead of winter in the northeast, or living in a climate that get tons of rain like in the northwest. Here in warm sunny coastal San Diego, there is zero reason to build one. The second reason you don’t build one is that since they are so expensive, covered arenas are smaller than a typical open field ring. Ask any equestrian which arena they’d like to show in, Horsepark’s covered arena or the adjacent grass or dirt rings , they would all say the uncovered rings. 

Paving??? Are they trying to ruin Horsepark for horses? Asphalt and horses do not mix. Horses slip on asphalt, throwing riders, and potentially breaking horse’s legs. I used to own a fifty horse commercial stables, and the trainers would be constantly covering various areas of asphalt with thick rubber mats to allow horses to safely cross. Go to any equestrian facility and you will see very limited use of asphalt and only in areas that horses do not travel over. Hopefully this item only referred to repairing the single existing road within Horsepark, but even then, a seal is probably all that is needed.

Arena Lighting??? Arena lighting is only used for horse shows, and only in facilities that have the ability to run very large horse shows, yet have a limited number of show rings, like the Fairgrounds which has limitless horse stalls, yet only three show rings. Horsepark is the exact opposite. They can only run medium sized shows, yet have six rings that can be used for shows, so there is no need to show at night. Moreover, Horsepark already has arena lighting – their indoor arena has lighting. Again, this is an expense that no one wants.

Equestrian’s List of Capital Improvements

What was really odd about staff’s capital improvement list is that the equestrian community, organized by Friends of Del Mar Horsepark, had already sent 22nd DAA staff a list of suggest capital improvements before the board meeting. The number one item on that list was arena footing improvements. This makes sense since that is the number one thing you can do to increase the health and safety of horses and their riders. You can see the entire list here. Needless to say, expensive and useless items like a second covered arena and lighting are not on the equestrian’s list.

Water Quality Improvements List Was Also Bloated

One of the things that I noticed was odd about Horsepark right from the beginning of this closure was staff’s insistence that they had to adhere to the large CAFO water remediation upgrades when everyone could see that the medium CAFO was all that was needed. This allowed staff to puff up the costs of re-opening Horsepark from $3M to $8M. Why would they do this?

Add in the bloated and unwanted capital improvement list and you start to see a pattern.

Water Board Letter

On March 1st, the 22nd DAA finally got around to sending the district water board this letter which basically asks if the water board will require that the 22nd DAA shut down Horsepark. Yes, you read that right. About six months after the decision to shut down Horsepark had been made, they finally got around to asking the water board if they did in fact have to shut it down. You can’t make this stuff up.

Meanwhile, if you listen to the 22nd DAA board meeting, you get no sense of urgency. They will slow walk this, “should we open, should we stay closed” game of footsie with themselves until who knows when.

Why?

If I may put on my “What’s really going on here?” tin foil hat for a moment, let’s see what has actually occurred. Apparently, 22nd DAA staff got spooked when an “environmental lawyer” put in a public records request asking about water quality mitigation efforts. This was the supposed pretext for shutting down Horsepark. No actual litigation threat ever occurred, just an information request from a lawyer associated with one of the environmental groups.

Add in that the 22nd DAA has these “Master Plans” that they work on, and the next one for Horsepark is due to be redone in less than five years. I’ve heard that there is “uncertainty” what this means for Horsepark among employees since the “Master Plan” may change.

Let me branch out into speculation. What if this “environmental lawyer” is actually a shill for developers? This tactic is so old, it has become a clichéd plot device in Hollywood movies (I most recently saw it in the movie Motherless Brooklyn). Pull levers to cause a property to degrade and lose value. Then when the site is truly a disaster, swoop in with a low bid to buy it turning it into a hotel or whatever. 

The 22nd DAA doesn’t even need to be corrupt for this to work, just incompetent and lazy. 

Meanwhile, Horsepark is indeed degrading before our eyes. By the way, the real crown jewel is the fairgrounds. Don’t think developers haven’t been circling that astoundingly valuable property for years. Agricultural preservation? How quaint. California is modern, doncha know.

Prove Me Wrong

I don’t know what staff and the 22nd DAA board are thinking. I really don’t. But from the outside looking in, I see nothing resembling action on the Horsepark closure. The board is plodding along, dithering about a public/private partnership, while staff warn that issuing an RFP for such would be a long process. Listen to this three minute clip of staff (video cued to the 1:07:00 point) outlining the looong timeline it would take to issue and award an RFP to allow a third party to run Horsepark. Towards the end of that clip, you can see director Michael Gelfand with a slight smile nodding his head. Clearly that’s what he wants to hear. If I were on that board, I’d be pissed that we weren’t moving faster, not happy that we are going to slow walk this process. 

Obviously, they aren’t going to even entertain Dale Harvey’s proposal which I discussed in my last last article

Corruption, incompetence, laziness, or just a government board and staff hard at work? I don’t know, but it sure is looking like Horsepark won’t open this year, and indeed may never do so again.