MAYOR’S VIEW: Fairgrounds purchase would bring local accountability


By Richard Earnest

Mayor, Del Mar

Assembly Bill 181, introduced on Oct. 6, 2010 by Senator Christine Kehoe, would create a non-profit corporation to administer the Fairgrounds, governed by a Board of Directors with representatives from the cities of Del Mar, San Diego and Solana Beach, two from the County of San Diego, one with an agricultural focus, the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority, and SANDAG. The non-profit board would operate the Fairgrounds through an enterprise fund which would be self-sufficient in terms of generating revenues and paying for its expenses, including the debt to acquire it. Instead of a state-appointed board not answerable to the region, the Fairgrounds would be operated by regional stakeholders with related professional experience. The non-profit board would retain professional managers; initially, the current Fairgrounds management.

The funding to purchase the Fairgrounds is proposed under a three-prong approach: the majority of the purchase price would be paid through the sale of revenue bonds backed by revenues from the Fairgrounds and horse racing lease and the up-front payment for a 55-year right to operate the race track. The remainder of the purchase price would consist of payments to the state.

We are fortunate to have a group of horse racing partners who are committed to the preservation of the sport of horse racing in California, and are willing to invest substantial amounts of money to keep the sport of horse racing healthy and viable. These partners, who will pre-pay for the right to operate the race track for 55 years, have both the experience in the horse racing industry and the financial strength to make major capital investments in the Del Mar facility. These infrastructure investments and the industry acumen that these horse racing partners possess will secure the future of horse racing in California, and will secure Del Mar’s future as the jewel of the West Coast Horse Racing venues.

AB 181 requires that both the County Fair and thoroughbred racing be maintained at the Fairgrounds and keeps this property in the public domain. The financial performance of the current Fairgrounds management has been researched by both the City and the state; however, AB 181 simply authorizes the sale, it doesn’t mandate it. Once the legislature approves AB 181, then the City will exercise additional due diligence before finalizing the purchase. For this proposal to move forward in the near future, it is important that the Governor call a special November session so that the legislature can consider AB 181 before the Governor changes, as well as many of the legislators. If a special session is not called, then this bill will be re-introduced with the new legislative period beginning in December.

If you feel that the region would be better served by locally chosen representatives rather than gubernatorial appointees, then please write or call your legislators and ask them for a special session in November.