County continues to deliberate proposed Del Mar Fairgrounds governance model

By Joe Tash

The question of who will oversee operations at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in the future was on the agendas of both the Solana Beach City Council and the fair board on Wednesday, April 10.

Both agencies — along with their counterparts at the cities of Del Mar and San Diego — are closely watching deliberations at the County of San Diego, which is conducting an analysis of a potential county-fair board collaboration to run the state-owned fairgrounds, which sits at the mouth of the San Dieguito River along the North County coast.

The facility hosts the popular San Diego County Fair, an annual horse-racing meet, and hundreds of other events each year, including weddings, home and garden shows, roller derby meets and gun shows.

Currently, the fairgrounds, which has a $58 million operating budget, is run by the 22nd District Agricultural Association, whose board members are appointed by the governor.

In October, the County Board of Supervisors agreed to consider a partnership with the 22nd DAA to operate the fairgrounds as a way of increasing local control of the facility.

Since then, fair officials have met with both state and county officials to discuss the potential new governance model for the fairgrounds.

Fair board president Adam Day said Wednesday the county has examined the fairgrounds’ financial statements and other documents to assess whether the agency wants to move forward with a partnership. Day said the “ball is still in the county’s court.”

In the meantime, the cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach are pressing their case to be represented on any new board that is formed to run the fairgrounds. Most of the fairgrounds property is within Del Mar city limits, and the property is adjacent to Solana Beach. Both cities are affected by traffic, noise and other issues related to events at the fairgrounds.

“We feel strongly Solana Beach needs to have a seat at the table as a full voting member,” and that the city should be able to choose its own representative, said Councilman Tom Campbell at Wednesday’s Solana Beach City Council meeting.

At that meeting, the council agreed to draft a letter to the fair board — copied to the county — spelling out its position.

Earlier this month, Del Mar sent a similar letter to Supervisor Greg Cox, who along with Supervisor Ron Roberts, heads the county’s efforts to consider a partnership with the fairgrounds.

While the cities may want to be part of any new board, they may face legal hurdles. Fair board member David Watson said Wednesday that under state law, the 22nd DAA has the legal authority to put on a fair with the county, but state legislation would be needed to expand that authority to include cities.

Newly elected Supervisor Dave Roberts, a former Solana Beach councilman, attended Wednesday’s Solana Beach City Council meeting.

Roberts said he is not privy to the ongoing talks regarding the county-fair partnership, but said a report to the full Board of Supervisors is expected in late April or early May.

At that time, he said, the board may determine whether to continue the talks. Also, Roberts said, he has requested the board to appoint him to the two-member subcommittee considering the partnership, because the fairgrounds is in his supervisorial district, and he has extensive experience dealing with fairgrounds issues from his days on the Solana Beach City Council. (A public meeting on the proposed governance model is scheduled for the next County Board of Supervisors Meeting on Tuesday, April 23, at 9 a.m. in Room 310 of the County Administration Center: 1600 Pacific Coast Highway, San Diego 92101. The public is encouraged to attend.)

The current sub-committee of Supervisors Greg Cox and Ron Roberts was formed just before the November election when Dave Roberts won his seat on the board.

The issue of who will own and operate the fairgrounds came to the fore in 2010 when former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reached a tentative deal with the city of Del Mar to sell the property to the city.

The current governor, Jerry Brown, decided not to pursue the sale. But the state does support increased local control of fairgrounds throughout California, state officials have said.