County supervisors to consider possible partnership options for governance of fair board

By Kathy Day

County supervisors on Oct. 31 will consider a proposal that some hope could lead to more local control in governing the 22nd District Agricultural Association.

At the urging of Adam Day, president of the board charged with operations of the Del Mar Fairgrounds and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Ron Roberts and Greg Cox are asking their fellow supervisors to open discussions “on potential partnership options.” Day has been talking in board meetings and in conversations with local leaders for more than four months about finding what he calls “new governance models that would expand and enhance input from local government.”

In a phone interview on Oct. 19, he said, “The county is the logical representative for all of the citizens of San Diego County. The fairgrounds and the race meet frankly belong to all of the residents of the county and beyond.”

Day said the objective is to find a way to be “more transparent, with increased local input in the operations, and free of state bureaucracy,”

Both Cox and Roberts issued statements saying they think the idea is worth exploring.

“The concept is intriguing,” Roberts said via e-mail. “The San Diego County Fairgrounds is a regional asset and the certainty that comes with regional control may be beneficial.”

Cox’s statement was similar, saying, in part, “… it is good government to explore options to keep it in regional control and protect the interests of all our communities and residents.”

Their letter to the board said a partnership “would remove any uncertainty surrounding the property’s future as the State of California struggles to balance its budget.”

They are recommending that Chief Administrative Officer Walter Ekard, who is leaving his post Dec. 1, begin meetings with fair board officials and report back in 60 days on partnership possibilities.

The proposal has the support of Solana Beach City Councilman Dave Roberts, who is seeking the third district supervisor’s seat now held by Pam Slater-Price. He has been a member of the fair relations board with Del Mar and Solana Beach officials for eight years, which he said gives him a good understanding of issues surrounding the fairgrounds.

“For years we’ve been working with community leaders on how to protect and preserve this asset,” Roberts said on Oct. 22. “I’m extremely pleased this has caught the attention of the county board of supervisors. It’s a good step forward.”

Steve Danon, who is also running for the third district county supervisor’s seat, issued the following statement on the subject: “I strongly support local control by the cities of Del Mar, Solana Beach, San Diego and the County of San Diego to protect this regional asset,” Danon said.

Day said he had written to all five supervisors to consider discussing a partnership and heard back from everyone but Slater-Price.

In the letter, he wrote that a partnership “would not create any financial or legal burden for the County of San Diego but rather serve to provide local control and leadership for this valuable community asset.”

Day said he has been discussing alternatives with the governor’s office and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), which oversees the agricultural associations.

CDFA Spokesman Steve Lyle said on Oct. 19 they have been working with fairs for the past 18 months “to be more entrepreneurial from the business point of view while still being a state institution and following the rules.”

On Monday, Jay Van Rein of the CDFA, added that the idea of local partnerships is what we are encouraging” and called the fact that the San Diego supervisors and fair board are talking about meeting “a positive sign.”

He also noted that Governor Jerry Brown’s recent reappointment of Day to the fair board is an “expression of his confidence in his leadership and creativity.”

Editor’s note: There is no relationship between Adam Day and Kathy Day, who wrote this story.