Area braces for impact of fair

With more than 1 million visitors expected to attend the San Diego County Fair in the next three weeks, Solana Beach and Del Mar are gearing up for both the positive and the negative impacts that come with hosting the region’s largest annual event.

Crime spikes during the fair, particularly vehicle break-ins and drug activity, said David Ott, city manager of Solana Beach.

“It’s something we always watch for and have the sheriff’s patrol,” he said.

While residents living nearest the fairgrounds also are bothered by the noise and light from the nightly concerts and carnival, Tim Fennell, the Del Mar Fairgrounds chief executive, said the fair benefits surrounding communities in many ways, including providing hundreds of summer jobs for local youth.

“The positives far outweigh any negatives,” he said.

But Ott said, “Even though the fairgrounds is in the city of Del Mar, a lot of the impacts - noise, light - all affect Solana Beach because everything faces Solana Beach.”

And while many Del Mar and Solana Beach residents say traffic is their biggest concern, others say it’s not that bad or they are not bothered by it. But those who are annoyed by the heavy traffic during the fair’s 22-day run have developed strategies to avoid backups along Via de la Valle, Camino del Mar and even Lomas Santa Fe Drive.

“I find if I have any important errand to run I do it on the days the fair is closed,” said Stella Bolog, a Solana Beach resident. “Otherwise it takes twice as long.”

Traffic, while a nuisance to residents, can have more serious consequences for Del Mar businesses. Carole Carden owned Esmeralda Books in the Plaza shopping center for 13 years before closing it in 2005. She said business would drop during the fair because customers avoided the Village for fear of traffic jams.

Carden, who now owns SoLo on South Cedros Avenue, said the fair does not negatively impact business there. But it doesn’t help either.

“People go to the fair for the day, they eat all the junk food and shop there,” Carden said. “I love the fair, but I don’t look forward to the fair for business.”

Del Mar sees a significant amount of sales tax revenue from transactions at the fair because the fairgrounds fall within the city’s boundaries.

“If they have a really bang up sales year, we’ll get better sales tax revenue,” said Mark Delin, assistant city manager of Del Mar.

But Ott said Solana Beach does not see a similar increase from its retail stores during the fair, although there is a slight bump from the restaurants immediately adjacent to the fairgrounds.

However, those at some other restaurants, including Wild Note Cafe and The Brigantine, said they do not see an increase in business from fairgoers.

“Our impression is everyone gets filled up on food at the fair,” said Tyler Martin, general manager at The Brigantine.

And while Pam Devaney of L’Auberge said high-end hotels like theirs don’t get a bump from the fair because most fair visitors are from the region and don’t stay overnight, the owner of Holiday Inn Express in Solana Beach said he gets business from vendors working the fair as well as musicians who perform there.

Sharad Khandwala said he was impressed room reservations generated by the fair this year are on par with last year.

“The fair people are doing a very good job considering the recession,” Khandwala said.

Visitors ride an elephant at last year’s San Diego County Fair. Courtesy