Q&A: Mass transit, parking were major factors in larger fair attendance, says board president


Carmel Valley resident Frederick Schenk — a longtime partner with San Diego-based law firm CaseyGerry — is president of the board of directors for the 22nd District Agricultural Association (San Diego County Fair Board).

Schenk, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, has a long association with the San Diego County Fair Board, and was appointed previously by former Gov. Gray Davis, serving from 2002 to 2006.

This year’s San Diego County Fair recently wrapped up one of its most successful seasons in history. In this Q & A, Schenk addresses the reasons for the Fair’s resounding success, its community outreach and vision for the coming year:

We understand this year’s fair was a big success. Can you provide some figures and touch on the reasons for its success?

This summer’s San Diego County Fair theme was “A Fair to Remember,” in honor of the centennial anniversary of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition held in Balboa Park. It drew more than 1,500,000 guests — 45,000 more visitors than last summer. Even with those strong attendance numbers, we were able to accommodate over 279,000 people from the Solana Beach train station and from off-site parking, representing a 3.4 percent increase over last year. In total, the District reduced the impact of approximately 80,000 cars on surface streets accessing the parking lots during this year’s fair. The reason for this success is the continued efforts by our staff to accommodate more guests with mass transit and a focus on educating the public about alternative ways in which to get to the fairgrounds in a safe and convenient way.

What were the most popular attractions this year?

Of course, many guests enjoy the fair because of the variety of experiences that can be enjoyed throughout the course of the 25 days we are open. Dixie’s Donuts fried up more than 40,000 mini doughnuts. Chicken Charlie sold 3,000 deep-fried Slim Fast bars, while Pink’s hot dogs sold more than 4,100 pounds of hot dogs. Perennial favorites such as Juicy’s sold more than 50,000 turkey legs, and the Country Fair Cinnamon Roll stand used 20,000 pounds of whole wheat flour, along with four tons of cinnamon and sugar to go along with the 500 gallons of cream cheese frosting. A favorite at the San Diego County Fair is the famous Tasti Chips — this year they did not disappoint and fried up 25 tons of California-grown potatoes.

Anything new and different that has been particularly successful?

New this year was the addition of “Distilled,” the spirits and cocktail competition and festival that took place on June 27. It featured 37 awards to distilleries from around the globe, including many from San Diego, with the rum competition won by locally owned Ballast Point Spirits. The festival and competition drew big crowds and was extremely popular, as were the already well-known wine and beer competitions. This year we also offered additional outstanding concerts in the Paddock, with new chart-topping artists such as Andy Grammar, as well as ’60s favorites such as Three Dog Night, along with our Grandstand stage lineup for 24 nights of the fair.

Can you touch on the Fair’s community outreach and importance to the community?

The Don Diego Foundation, which is made up of community volunteers, helps to raise money to provide college scholarships for college-bound high school seniors who have worked at the fairgrounds — performing such tasks as cleaning up the grounds to help with recycling — or who are interested in agriculture or raising and showing animals at the fair. We also help provide buses for hundreds of children in low-income communities so they can visit the fair at no cost. We are proud of all the efforts to make the fair available to children who might not otherwise enjoy the sights, sounds, and experiences of attending the San Diego County Fair. Also very important to the 22nd DAA: environmental responsibility. This summer, of the total estimated waste stream of over 2,000 tons of material, close to 1,450 tons were recycled — with a 70 percent diversion rate from the landfill.

What do you envision for next year?

The process of getting ready for the 2016 summer fair begins in the fall. As always, we will focus on community, education, great food and fun activities — every day, all day long for everyone who attends. Look for the release of our 2016 theme in a few months.

Would you do anything differently next year?

Next year, I hope to be able to report that even more people will use mass transit when visiting the 2016 San Diego County Fair — while achieving record-breaking attendance numbers. Our goals are to make the San Diego County Fair a safe, fun and educational experience, no matter one’s age and no matter how many times guests come back to visit. There is always something new to see and “remember” every day of the San Diego County Fair.