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Society can keep soaring over Fairview

The city renews the model aircraft group's permit but with changes reflecting recent federal scrutiny of park.

April 25, 2014|By Bradley Zint | This post has been corrected, as noted below.

The Harbor Soaring Society can stay in Costa Mesa's Fairview Park for the next few years, thanks to recent approval from city parks commissioners.

The Parks and Recreation Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a five-year extension of the group's permit to operate in the 208-acre park's southwest quadrant.

Based on changes suggested last month, the roughly 100-member club — made up of aficionados of radio-controlled model aircraft — now needs the commission's approval for any modifications to its designated area, which includes a runway.

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The city can also close the group's site at any time without notice "in the event of an emergency or other circumstance which may pose an immediate threat to public health and safety or environmentally sensitive areas of Fairview Park," according to the permit.

Commission Chairman Byron de Arakal said last month that because Fairview Park recently came under the scrutiny of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, anything done in the park needs to be fully vetted to avoid problems with the powerful federal agency.

The wildlife service was contacted last summer after reports surfaced about unpermitted decomposed granite trail improvements in the southwest quadrant that encroached on one of the park's vernal pools, a type of temporary wetland that is home to an endangered species and other wildlife. The agency ordered the removal of the granite trails late last year and is investigating how they came to be.

No one has claimed responsibility for the granite addition. The Harbor Soaring Society is among several groups that frequent the park that denied any involvement in the matter.

The city has roped off the area that contained the trails and is waiting for direction from the wildlife service on any mitigation measures it should take because of the environmental damage.

The wildlife service is "the 800-pound gorilla, whether we like it or not," de Arakal said during the commission's March 27 meeting. "The city has learned its lesson that we need to do a much better job of managing the park, from an environmental resource perspective."

Before Thursday's change, the Harbor Soaring Society had been on a year-to-year lease. The group reached a formal agreement with the city to use Fairview Park in 2007, though it has maintained a presence in the park for more than 30 years.

Fliers are permitted from dawn to dusk — the park's hours.

City officials issued 275 permits in 2013 for people to fly radio-controlled model aircraft. Society membership is not required to fly at Fairview Park.

(For the record, 3:17 p.m. April 26: An earlier version of this story should not have stated that the Harbor Soaring Society’s permit, approved Thursday, stipulates that its membership must ensure that all users obey the rules.)

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