SAN DIEGO -- The City Council Monday approved a controversial transfer of a lease of the San Diego Polo Fields from a polo club that's behind on its rent to the organizers of the Surf Cup soccer tournaments held at the site.
After a hearing that lasted more than 90 minutes, the council voted 8-1 to grant the 28-year lease to Surf Cup Sports LLC, which has been operating the tournaments and running club teams for 24 years on the fields east of Interstate 5 near Via de la Valle.
Surf Club Sports was the only compliant respondent when the city sought a replacement of the San Diego Polo Club as lessee, according to city staff.
The council's approval came despite complaints by nearby homeowners that the soccer events have grown in size over the years, creating heavy traffic and noise in the area.
"We have up to 4,000 cars parking at the field so it’s just a nightmare getting in and out of my home. The noise, the dust, it’s a significant inconvenience besides I’m confident that it’s reducing the value of my property," said nearby resident Christopher Gann.
Supporters of the agreement countered that the prestigious soccer tournaments, which draw teams from around the U.S. and other countries, have created opportunities for local players that they might not have otherwise by drawing hundreds of college coaches to the matches.
"Surf is definitely a fabric of this community and this city,'' Councilman Chris Cate said.
"We are known worldwide for stars that we develop every single year who play soccer -- who are part of Surf Cup -- and go on to do amazing things,'' Cate said. "This has gone on for a long, long time, and I couldn't imagine San Diego without Surf.''
According to city staff, the current lessee is six months behind on rent and has frequently been in arrears. The city in 2005 issued a citation for grading on a portion of the Coast to Crest Trail that runs along the property, but the damage hasn't been corrected, staff said.
Surf Cup plans to restore the damaged area and build a horse exercise track.
The 600-acre site was deeded to the city in 1983 and has been used for both polo and soccer.
Maria Severson, an attorney for around 55 homeowners in the area, contended the deed came with conditions that permitted quiet and non- commercial activities like jogging and equestrian events, but not things that would attract large crowds. Surf's activities have grown so popular that large crowds of people come to the field on about half the weekends of the year, she said.
"They brag about having over 100,000 people coming to these events. By definition, the deed prohibits a large assembly of people. How do you reconcile that?" Severson asked.
Council President Sherri Lightner, who represents the area, cast the dissenting vote.
"Per the original grant deed, it is clear to me that the intent was for this land to be open space in a natural condition,'' Lightner said.
"There is considerable contention over what constitutes noncommercial recreational uses and large assemblages of people or automobiles,'' she said. "Based on that specific language in the deed, I believe neither polo's use in the past or Surf's future use, is appropriate.''
She said if it were up to her, the land would be dedicated by the city as open space.
Former Councilman Jim Madaffer, who represents Surf Cup, said officials are working on traffic control measures, and added that polo events will continue at the site.