By Marlena Chavira-Medford
The Solana Beach City Council agreed to hire consultants related to fairgrounds negotiations during its Dec. 9 meeting, authorizing city manager David Ott to start researching some options. At the time of press, no budget for those consultation services had been set.
Earlier this month the Solana Beach City Council announced it is seeking part ownership of the fairgrounds, which Del Mar is attempting to purchase from the state for $120 million. Talks between the two cities are still ongoing.
“This is a very complex topic and we need to make sure that we equip ourselves with the best expertise. Our citizens expect that of us,” Solana Beach councilmen David Roberts said of his decision to hire consultants.
Solana Beach sent its proposal for joint ownership of the fairgrounds to Del Mar last month, although as of Dec. 8, Del Mar had not formally responded, something that several council members expressed concern over.
“We made the overture and it’s really disappointing that they haven’t responded,” said councilmember
Tom Campbell, who sits on the ad hoc committee between the two cities. “I’m willing to sit down with them again, if that’s what it takes.”
Legislation authorizing Del Mar to buy the fairgrounds was introduced Dec. 6 by senator Christine Kehoe, who helped author the bill, SB 1. That bill will sit for at least 30 days before any action is taken, and changes can be made to it throughout the review process. After reviewing the current bill and talking to
Kehoe, councilman Roberts said he could not support the bill because he feels that “no one jurisdiction should own this property.”
Instead, Solana Beach is proposing that the fairgrounds be owned and operated by a Joint Powers of Authority (JPA) that includes representatives from all the communities impacted by the fairgrounds. Del Mar had originally proposed that the fairgrounds follow a Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) model and be governed by a board of directors who have expertise in relevant areas. Solana Beach mayor Lesa Heebner said there were still unanswered questions about that CCDC model.
“Their model asks for a board of experts who supposedly have 10 years of expertise, but we do not know what that expertise is — it has not been laid out there yet. Is it to run fairs? Is it to run races?”
“A JPA, on the other hand, has representatives from each of the communities that are impacted. Those differences are almost night and day. The JPA is very open, and it shares in all of the risks and benefits, control and operation of the entity. A CCDC, to me, is a very different model and I just don’t see the benefits of it. I don’t think that message is getting out, so let’s just make it super clear: We’re asking for local control and regional ownership.”
Solana Beach council members also pointed out that the city has a successful JPA partnership with the City of Encinitas via the San Elijo JPA water system, and believe that the fairgrounds could be run in a similar manner.
Councilman Roberts also said the city is still open to talks with other fairgrounds stakeholders, such as the 22nd District Agricultural Association (22nd DAA), which currently governs the fairgrounds. He said some of the changes the 22nd DAA has made lately encouraged him.
“The 22nd DAA has said that they now support regional control of that property, which I think is a great step in the right direction. They have also said that they will remove the condo hotel from their Draft Environmental Impact Report, which I think is a real sticking point. Our city spent a lot of money critiquing their DEIR, and that was a big sticking point that we had.”
The council hopes to be as transparent as possible in all its talks related to the fairgrounds, and said the public can expect to see this item frequently appear on upcoming council agendas.
Because there are so many moving parts to this issue, councilman Roberts stressed the importance of hiring quality consultants who could help the city act “smartly” and “protect the interest of [Solana Beach].”
“Like it or not, there are people who have the ability to influence key decision-makers. And decision makers are in different places. You don’t always know where they are. They could be now in the Brown administration, they could be in general services, they could be horseracing people, they could be in the legislature, they could be other people throughout the county.
“We have to invest our scarce resources to protect the interest of this community, ” Roberts added. “Now, does that mean we’re not going to watch the bills or budget on this? Of course we are. But I do not want us to do this on the cheap. We have got to do this smartly. We have got to get the best possible people that can to help us understand this, what our next steps should be, how we can build support for regional ownership and local control.”