Gliderport facing pressures from construction, lawsuits

Perched high atop the Pacific bluffs, La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Gliderport, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, finds its legal position is getting as precarious as its physical location. The site is facing nearby development encroachments and is wrangling with an environmental watchdog group over its permitted operating conditions.

Two proposed developments nearby would encroach on its domain: a 135,000-square foot, four-story research facility proposed by the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine and a new 14-story student housing complex planned by UCSD. Aviators believe either development could disrupt - and eventually doom - their facility.

Another development, planned expansion of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, has temporarily been shelved due to environmental concerns raised over the existence of vernal pools on its expansion site.

Coincidentally, the gliderport has expansion plans of its own in the works: A proposal to expand the borders of its designated airfield has been submitted to the California State Historical Resources Commission. It requests creation of a 2,000-foot-long, 450-foot-wide landing perimeter.

Finally, the gliderport is contending with the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network, an environmental watchdog group. In a lawsuit, the Network alleged the city of San Diego, which leases the land at Torrey Pines City Park to gliderport owner David Jebb, illegally allowed Jebb to develop the site with an 800-square-foot trailer, a kitchen, concession stand, bathroom and an observatory deck constructed atop two shipping containers without coastal development permits. The suit also said that Jebb had introduced non-native vegetation to the area, posing a risk to the coastal bluff. The structures involved all have been present on the gliderport site since the 1980s.

A recent settlement of Coastal Law’s suit against the city seeks to force Jebb to remove unpermitted structures and irrigation at the site, as well as requiring him to pay legal costs for the city.

“With hundreds of acres of open space on the (Torrey Pines) Mesa, why would you destroy a historic facility like the gliderport, one of five historically designated flight parks in the United States?” asked Jebb. “UCSD’s student housing center would interfere with the flight path for gliders which have been flying here for over 80 years, which no longer would be able to fly behind that building and come in to land on the gliderport property.”

Jebb, who has owned the gliderport for 12 years, said he believes the university’s expansion plans for the site won’t stop with its high-rise student center. “I think UCSD has grand plans for developing the entire back lot instead of leaving it as open space,” said Jebb. “I believe they want to put buildings and high rises on it which will eventually make this historic site unusable. I think they plan to just take a little at a time.”

UCSD disputes that its student housing high-rise will interfere with Torrey Pines Gliderport’s functioning. The university also disputes the notion that it “covets” the gliderport’s property.

“The student housing high-rise will have no effect on hang gliding, paragliding, or flying remote controlled airplanes at the Gliderport,” said the university in a prepared statement. “It is not clear whether the high-rise will affect the operation of fixed-wing glider airplanes that sometimes operate in the area, although we believe the high rise will not.

“UC San Diego is working closely with the fixed-winged glider community to work on solutions that will allow continued fixed-wing glider operations of this site. We are also exploring options with the fixed-wing gilder community that will allow development of future projects including the San Diego Consortium of Regenerative Medicine building as well as the other campus projects and allow continued operation of fixed-wing gliders. UC San Diego has no plans that would impair hang gliding, paragliding, or flying remote controlled airplanes at the Gliderport.”

Marcia Hanscom of the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network said her environmental watchdog group intends to keep holding Jebb’s feet to the fire to ensure the gliderport is meeting all its legal obligations.

“Most of what Jebb and his company have done there is unpermitted,” said Hanscom. “Most of those structures he’s built out there have no permits whatsoever with the city or the Coastal Commission.”

Hanscom alleges the gliderport’s operations imperil the surrounding environment. “He has installed a lawn and a serious irrigation network ... bluffs are very sensitive geologically and you start watering heavily into bluffs and they can easily fall, presenting a safety hazard given there is a state beach down below.”

Jebb said he believes he’s been unfarily treated. He compared the situaion to David vs. Goliath - only David might not win this time. “I’ve been cited for some really dishonest and really hypocritical enforcement,” he said. “UCSD is such a big gigantic power, even the Coastal Commission won’t bother them. They can throw gravel down, knock down beautiful trees, put in driveways and move thousands of tons of dirt around. I move a wheelbarrrel and I get cited for it. They’ve sued me for having palm trees here.”

“This is one of the few open space parks left,” Jebb said. “We do free flying here, share the joy of free flight with the city of San Diego and pilots from all over the world. It’s really an asset for the city, and particularly for the citizens of La Jolla and thousands of guests here every week. This is one of the last places on Earth of its kind. It’s not right for a political entity to come in and say, ‘We’re going to do what we want to do and we couldn’t care less about your historical significance.’

“I’m a little businessman. My wife, son and daughter work here. We’re just getting by. We’re the caretakers of this property. It seems like every time we turn around, we’re getting kicked by someone or stomped on. Once this place is gone - it’s never going to come back. It’s going to be gone forever.”

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