County supervisors agree to consider a possible fairgrounds partnership — without financial liability

By Joe Tash

County supervisors have agreed to study a partnership with the agency that runs the Del Mar Fairgrounds that could give the county some say in the fairgrounds’ operations, but not subject the county to any financial liability.

At its meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 31, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to direct the county’s Chief Administrative Officer to meet with “stakeholders” and come up with a recommendation on a partnership with the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which oversees the state-owned fairgrounds.

The issue will come back before the Board of Supervisors in 60 to 90 days.

Adam Day, president of the 22nd DAA board of directors, initiated the partnership discussion in a letter to the county.

Supervisors said they believe the fairgrounds could benefit from the county’s management and financial expertise, but they insisted that no county money could be used on the fairgrounds or its operations.

“I’m cautiously optimistic with the proposal,” said Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, whose 3rd District includes the fairgrounds. “In my opinion, it could be very helpful to the 22nd DAA and operations there to have some county guidance.”

Slater likely won’t get to vote on the proposed partnership, as she will be stepping down from the board in December after serving five terms.

Day said he has been talking with Gov. Jerry Brown’s office and other state officials for several months about such partnership arrangements, with the goals of strengthening local control of the fairgrounds, increasing transparency of fairgrounds operations, protecting the facility’s employees and providing flexibility and freedom from state regulations and bureaucracy.

Currently, members of the 22nd DAA board are appointed by the governor. The issue of local control of the fairgrounds has gained increasing prominence since 2010, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tentatively approved a sale of the fairgrounds property to the city of Del Mar as a way of raising money for the cash-strapped state. That proposal stalled after Brown took office.

Del Mar Mayor Carl Hilliard spoke in favor of the proposal at Wednesday’s board meeting, and urged supervisors to include local jurisdictions affected by fairgrounds operations, such as the cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach, in the process of forming a proposal for local governance.

Also speaking in support of the proposal was Assemblyman Martin Garrick.

The Board of Supervisors’ vote to study a partnership between the county and the Del Mar fairgrounds occurred just before press-time. A complete report on the board’s action will be included in next week’s paper.