For the second time in six months, the California Coastal Commission gave promoters of Grand Prix-style auto racing the green flag Thursday, paving the way for the controversial event to be held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds next year.
Meeting in San Francisco, the commission voted 7-5 to approve a permit amendment allowing officials with the Long Beach Grand Prix Assn. to present two weekends of high-speed racing in 1987 rather than this month, the date previously approved by the state panel.
Race promoters canceled this year's race meet because they lacked sufficient time to line up sponsors and meet a host of environmental conditions imposed by the Coastal Commission. The promoters blamed the cancellation on a long-running legal feud between the fairgrounds and the City of Del Mar, which bitterly opposes the Grand Prix.
The commission's action after a 40-minute public hearing Thursday came despite protests from Del Mar officials, who argued that amending the permit was an inappropriate action. On the advice of their legal counsel, commissioners rejected the city's request, which was based on a technical point and would merely have created delays for race promoters.
"We already voted once to do this as an experiment," said Commissioner Dorrill Wright. "I'm willing to go with this amendment because it's the same event at the same time of the year and it's only a one-time thing."
Five commissioners, however, opposed the permit amendment. Commissioner David Malcolm of Chula Vista said he was reluctant to approve the item because "I don't believe we should have jurisdiction over a city's objection."
City officials could not be reached for comment. But representatives of the 22nd District Agricultural Assn., as the Fair Board is formally known, were pleased that the commission agreed to grant their request. They characterized the city's bid as an effort to hinder race promoters in hopes of again jeopardizing the Grand Prix.
"This is a last-ditch effort to make us go back to ground zero and start this whole process all over again," said Deputy Atty. Gen. Harold Eisenberg, the district's legal counsel. "It's preposterous and a real waste of everyone's time."
Fair Board members also angrily denounced the opposition as a violation of an agreement reached last summer and warned that the city's resistance could reopen the nasty feud that has brought relations between the neighboring agencies to an all-time low.
"It is clear that with their action and conduct today the City Council has abandoned any effort whatsoever to constructively resolve any of their differences with the district," the Fair Board's chairman, Raymond Saatjian, said after the meeting. "This was as hostile an action as their original objection to the original permit. They haven't gotten the message yet that this can't go on, that they can't continue to violate their agreements with us."
The agreement in question was struck in August, minutes before a court hearing on a lawsuit the city filed in an effort to block the race. Under the accord, the city agreed to suspend the lawsuit and "take no action to interfere with or prevent the 1986 Grand Prix."
The agricultural district agreed to abandon efforts to de-annex the sprawling state fairgrounds from the City of Del Mar, and the two parties formed a community relations committee designed to prevent future confrontations.
Saatjian maintains that in testifying before the commission Thursday, the city has violated terms of the agreement, because a 1986 Grand Prix was never held. City officials disagree, saying the agreement specifically refers only to this year's race.
In May, the commission voted 7-4 to approve the 1986 Grand Prix, concluding that there was not sufficient justification under the state Coastal Act to deny promoters a permit. The state panel did, however, attach a list of environmental conditions designed to protect the neighboring San Dieguito Lagoon.
Unhappy residents continue to insist that the roar of high-speed sports car engines will disrupt their lives. City officials, meanwhile, argue that auto racing clashes with the character of the seaside community and will exacerbate traffic problems.
Jenifer Warren contributed to this report from San Diego and Tracey Kaplan contributed from San Francisco.