UC San Diego unveils plan for shared-use recreation facility at the Gliderport in La Jolla

UC San Diego released the first renderings for the Gliderport Improvement Project, June 20 at an Open House held at the campus Faculty Club.

Project plans feature redeveloping the Torrey Pines Gliderport property (which the university owns) to establish a recreational facility with permanent parking. The proposal also seeks to reduce further cliff erosion, provide a construction staging area, and preserve the historic runway for fixed-wing gliders.

Although field arrangements may change, the tentative design calls for the creation of two soccer fields, a rugby field, an exercise loop with a decomposed granite path and obstacle courses, staging area for construction projects, 300-plus parking spaces, and a water detention basin to control runoff. There may also be a small building constructed for staff offices and a restroom. Once the feasibility study has been completed, the university will need to obtain funding for the proposed concept.

The conversation covering what could be done with the space along Torrey Pines Scenic Drive west of the Sanford Consortium — primarily used to host events and provide parking (and occasionally store construction equipment) — started with the University’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), a general land-use plan that guides the physical development of the campus, which was released earlier this year, and prior to that updated in 2004.

“Normally, when we do planning studies, it’s because there is a project (at the base of it),” UCSD assistant director of campus planning, Todd Pitman, told La Jolla Light. “That is not what happened here. We wanted to do something positive (with the land) in terms of an amenity. Recreation space is limited and we thought there could be a symbiotic relationship here.”

In the course of outreach, UCSD involved organizations such as Save Our Heritage Organisation and the Associated Glider Clubs of Southern California. A similar but more preliminary open house was held seven months ago to gather ideas with stakeholders.

There has not been a request to launch a fixed-wing glider from the site since 2009, so when it came time for another LRDP, the focus was on shared-use. To that goal, UCSD is proposing a space that would be open for recreation during the gliding off-season, and would serve as a landing strip for gliders when requests are made during flying season. Flying season begins in April and lasts for six to eight weeks, based on wind conditions.

“This a nationally designated site and we want to preserve the ability for gliders to fly to and from there,” Pitman explained at the Open House. “That is a complicated thing to do at times because there are competing needs in terms of how we use the space. So we felt that having a more comprehensive plan would be a good idea, especially from a coastal standpoint.”

Landscape architect and designer Kyle Fiddelke added: “I don’t want to say it’s a free-for-all out there, but it can be better, and what we want to do is (look at how we can) organize it, manage it and create the proper space for day-to-day use, but also large events,” he said. “We want to take this large area and use it for something, not only for UCSD students, but as a community asset as well.”

While turf and material choices have not been finalized, Fiddelke explained: “We don’t want to put down a bunch of concrete. We want it to look and feel like it belongs in the Torrey Pines area. Drainage and water quality is also a big issue. The strategy today is to just let the water run off the bluff, but we want to capture it, contain it, and make sure it holds and stabilizes.

“During high rain events, we’re looking at having a spreader, so once the water hits a certain height, it will disperse in a spread-out fashion, evenly, and not in one direction, which would cause further erosion.”

The project would not likely move forward until 2020, because the area is currently staging construction equipment for the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood, which started construction in early June.

“The most important thing, from my point of view, is we are really truly trying to do the right thing with this land,” Pitman said. “We see our solution as a win-win for the site. Recreation is a big deal, and history is important, so our proposal overlaps with open-space planning and university planning.”

About the Torrey Pines Gliderport

The Torrey Pines Gliderport was established in the 1930s after famed aviator Charles Lindbergh soared a sailplane from Mount Soledad to the beach of Del Mar. Area clubs were looking for a permanent location to fly gliders, and as Lindbergh soared along the cliffs, the spot was chosen.

A 2010 La Jolla Historical Society DVD on the Gliderport, “Soaring Torrey Pines,” calls it “one of the most famous flying sites in the world ... for its unique coastal settings.” It is credited for having a unique and smooth “lift” that makes transition from land to air (and back) easier, and is special in that the take-off and landing are in the same location.

In addition to sailplanes and fixed-wing gliders, hang-gliders and parasailors use the bluff’s edge — on City of San Diego property — as a launch. The UCSD project would only apply to the glider runway, and Pitman said “we intend to work with the City to provide a cohesive design that supports all of these activities.”

On June 6, 1992, the Torrey Pines Gliderport was recognized as a historic landmark. It is listed on the National, State and San Diego Register of Historic Places.

In May 1993, then-president Bill Clinton wrote: “I am delighted that the Torrey Pines Gliderport has been designated a historic site by the City of San Diego. … As the only remaining gliderport in America that is directly adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, Torrey Pines serves as an extraordinary site for the enjoyment of all Americans who are interested in the wonders of human flight.”

Care to comment? UCSD is still collecting feedback about the project. Those with input may call Todd Pitman at (858) 822-3791.