A win-win solution for the Del Mar Fairgrounds

By Bud Emerson

Resident, Del Mar

A friend asked if the 22nd District Agricultural Association Board could do anything that would not be opposed. That’s a fair question given the severe criticism of their “Master Plan” so damaging to the environment, community character and traffic circulation.

The fact is that nearby communities get direct benefits from taxes, fees and business activity when the fairground is profitable. We do not want the fairground to fail —everyone loses in that scenario.

So what do we want? For me, most importantly the fair board needs to engage all area stakeholders in a truly participatory collaborative process of planning to get success without damaging the lagoon environment and local communities.

Many bright resourceful people and organizations have workable ideas, but there is no forum for discussing such ideas.

For example, local architect Bill Lewis’ design team has an intriguing proposal for reconfiguring the circulation pattern in and around the site. He says it would improve traffic from a grade of “F” to “C,” and leave a very wide lagoon open space buffer.

Another intriguing plan is coming from Craig Adams and the San Dieguito Lagoon Conservancy, to make it work with a strong environmental protection overlay.

Knowledgeable horse owners believe an upgrade of the facilities could attract many lucrative equestrian activities making this a “Saratoga West” with little or no adverse impact on surrounding communities. They say equestrian events have been turned away by the fair board only to succeed elsewhere.

Of course, some ideas like a proposed football stadium do not meet the test of protecting the lagoon or small-town community life.

Many would like to see the fair board be more faithful to its core mission as an agricultural district, promoting more farm-related activities.

Many locals have come to terms with the annual fair even though it does upset the rhythm of life in our communities, but only for a couple of weeks. We have learned to work around the disruptions of the racing season. These are our gives in a give-and-take transaction. What we want is fewer “takes” from the fair board.

My experience in negotiating tells me there are potential win-win solutions possible in this relationship. The community is alive with ideas, if only the fair board would ask. What we need is some indication of willingness to do the work to find the win-wins.