Groups come together to oppose fairgrounds’ sale

Upwards of 200 people stood in solidarity to show their opposition to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to sell the Del Mar Fairgrounds at the 22nd District Agricultural Association’s board of directors’ June 9 meeting.

Many were fairgrounds and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club employees, but also in the room were elected officials, businessmen and women who run shows at the fairgrounds, and residents from the surrounding communities.

Del Mar resident Bob Lewis said locals have disagreed with the fairgrounds many times, especially on master plan to develop the site.

“But suddenly we’re in love with you,” Lewis said. “You are a part of us, a part of our fabric, our culture, our community.”

More than 30 individuals spoke during public comment - every one opposed to the sale of the fairgrounds, which the governor proposed last month as a way to help close the state’s $21 billion budget deficit.

There was the food service worker who loves her job.

There was the Bridal Bazaar organizer who explained how devastating it would be to the 500 small businesses that sell at the two shows held annually at the fairgrounds if the venue was closed.

There were the Fallbrook FFA students who asked where would they, and future FFA members, be able to sell their livestock to raise money for college if there was no San Diego County Fair.

Joe Harper, CEO of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, explained the consequences of closing the racetrack.

“If we lose Del Mar, we lose the entire thoroughbred industry in California,” Harper said.

Solana Beach Councilman Dave Roberts asked the board to deliver this message to the governor: “Dear sir, with all due respect, this is the dumbest, most fiscally irresponsible decision you could make.”

Each speaker was met with heartfelt applause from the audience and the board.

“I have never been in a meeting where we have had unanimous public comment with so many speakers,” Board President Kelly Burt said.

Board members said they would represent the community in Sacramento, but encouraged the audience to contact their elected representatives to express their opposition as well.

“We’ll do what we can,” Director Russ Penniman said. “But folks here have to be involved.”

Assemblyman Martin Garrick’s representative Tom Stinson reaffirmed Garrick’s opposition to the sale of the property and pledge to work to remove it as an option to balance the budget.

Penniman threw out a suggestion to draft a proposition that would prevent state-owned agricultural property from being sold without the approval of the majority of voters in that property’s county.

Ruben Barrales wondered if there was some way to make the state whole, but get out from under the “cloud of state government.”

“I don’t want to be back here having another hearing like this this time next fiscal year and the year after that,” Barrales said.