Del Mar and Fairgrounds: BFFs now?

By Carl Hilliard

Del Mar mayor

Carl Hilliard
Some might say Thursday, March 8, 2012 was a day of reckoning. A day the 22nd District Agricultural Association, better known as the Del Mar Fairgrounds, agreed to the California Coastal Commission’s cease and desist and restoration orders to correct coastal act violations, and as much as said it would turn over a new leaf.

Fairgrounds board President Adam Day and board member David Watson said they look forward to a new era of cooperation. And while there was unanimous support by the commission for approval of the two orders, some commissioners expressed skepticism. Commissioner Brian Brennan noted that the fairgrounds’ master plan, which would transform the property into a sports/hotel/entertainment complex, was at odds with the wishes of the Del Mar community. What if, Commissioner Steve Blank asked, the fairgrounds board elected to build a shopping center on the site? Would the board have to answer to anyone?

The answer is even though the fairgrounds board must obtain development permits, the commission will not make the determination if the proposed addition is consistent with the fairgrounds’ statutory mandate. In short, the commission isn’t authorized to enforce use limitations contained in other statutes. Beyond that, the fairgrounds board has the money to hire outside lawyers to contest commission orders. Neither the commission nor the city has the budget for protracted legal battles with the fairgrounds.

At the same time the fairgrounds is projecting $61 million in annual revenues for 2012, we’re still smarting from the 2001 court decision that limited Del Mar to receive $525,300 in annual proceeds from the fairgrounds this fiscal year that will not cover the cost of city services provided to the facility.

Does the fairgrounds board’s declaration that a collegial culture will now replace an adversarial air come from the heart? Or is it meant to pacify intense public and press outcry?

In my opinion, the jury is still out. On the one hand, sound curtains and light shielding have been added to mitigate the effects of the temporary stage next to Stevens Creek, which will be permitted to continue for six months. But on the other, the fairgrounds board approved $80,000 in permanent electrical improvements to the stage without requesting a coastal development permit from the commission.

I agree that the consent and restoration orders are an excellent step forward. But in reality, an amicable resolution of these important issues rests in the hands of the legislature, the governor and his appointees on the fairgrounds board.

I’d be overjoyed by a new era of cooperation between the fairgrounds board and Del Mar; however, I have a sense of unease since the March Consent Calendar lists an agreement with Capitol Strategic Advisors for legislative consultation regarding governmental decisions and policies. The agreement, which runs from April through December, carries a $135,000 price tag — many times more than Del Mar’s budget for a Sacramento lobbyist.

So what do you think? Can a leopard change its spots?

Mayor Hilliard appeared and testified on behalf of Del Mar before the California Coastal Commission on March 8, 2012.