By Claire Harlin
Following possible rumors that a group of horse owners pulled out of a deal to invest $30 million into the City of Del Mar’s purchase of the Del Mar Fairgrounds from the state, the Solana Beach City Council released a letter last week clarifying its position — one of opposition — on the potential transaction.
“We have tried to make it clear that we don’t support a single city owning it, and they said they want to work together, but they haven’t gotten back to us,” said Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner, who sent the letter, dated Aug. 3, to Del Mar officials but said the council got no response.
Signed by Heebner and Solana Beach Councilman Dave Roberts and addressed to Del Mar Mayor Don Mosier and Del Mar Councilman Mark Filanc, the letter was in part a response to a staff report issued by Mosier and Filanc on July 25 to update the community on the fairgrounds purchase proposal. The report stated that the City of Del Mar “continues to move forward on the proposed purchase, reach out to regional stakeholders and have discussion with the City of Solana Beach and organized labor.”
Talk of the investors — three horse owners led by Mike Pegram — backing out of the deal began with a Thoroughbred Times interview published on July 9 in which Pegram was quoted as saying “it just didn’t work out.” A subsequent July 22 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune — which Solana Beach officials cited in their letter as a premise behind clarifying their position on the matter — also stated key investors had pulled out.
Mosier and Filanc responded to these news reports in the July 25 Del Mar City Council meeting, however, saying the deal is not dead.
“That wasn’t what the horsemen had told us,” said Mosier in an Aug. 30 interview. He said the potential investors are simply holding off on the deal until final numbers are released after the races close on Sept. 7, and the financial performance of this year’s race meet can be reevaluated.
It was difficult to respond to Solana Beach officials’ letter, said Mosier, because it didn’t address the points he and Filanc made in the July 25 meeting.
“We tried to relay in the council meeting that the fairgrounds are still for sale,” said Mosier, adding that if the state decides to support the sale, it is possible that Pegram and his investors may still be interested.
“If not them, other investors might be interested,” said Mosier. “It’s not dead; it’s in limbo but could be resurrected in the fall or next winter.”
Mosier said there was no formal response to Solana Beach, but there was informal communication.
“Our interim city manager said that we appreciate their comments and will respond in due course,” Mosier said. “Much depends on events not in Del Mar’s control, so we’ll see what happens.”
In addition to clarifying that the Solana Beach City Council “will not support any one entity controlling the use, management and operations of fairground and horseracing activities,” the letter from the Solana Beach City Council stated it does not support the “charitable trust” concept of ownership as proposed by the City of Del Mar because it does not provide adequate assurances that the single entity of the City of Del Mar would not have ultimate control over the fairgrounds.
The letter stated that the council also doesn’t support the “charitable trust” concept because it is “overly complex, cumbersome and vulnerable to operational and management conflicts between horseracing and non-horseracing activities” and does not provide a clear resolution mechanism.
“Nor does it provide for adequate regional input and control of the operations or future operations of this regional asset,” the letter stated.
The City of Solana Beach does, however, support the regional control and management of the fairgrounds.