Solana Beach and Del Mar to start talks about fairgrounds purchase


By Marlena Chavira-Medford

Staff Writer

The cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach are going to begin talks about Del Mar’s possible purchase of the fairgrounds.

The decision was reached during the Oct. 27 Solana Beach City Council meeting, when Del Mar Mayor Richard Earnest and councilmember Carl Hilliard publically spoke, seeking a letter of support for their efforts to buy the fairgrounds. Those talks will happen between Del Mar’s ad hoc committee, which includes Earnest and Hilliard, and the Solana Beach ad hoc, which includes Solana Beach Mayor Tom Campbell and councilmember David Roberts.

Before agreeing to support the potential sale, Solana Beach City Council members said they’d like to see some changes to the legislation that would authorize the sale of the fairgrounds. For starters, they’d like to see more mitigation funds for the emergency services Solana Beach provides to the fairgrounds, which at $68,000 per year doesn’t cover the cost.

Several of the council members also questioned the nonprofit group, which would govern the fairgrounds with the motive of curbing any future development of the property.

“I believe the way you’re proposing to set up [the governing body] will not fulfill its promise,” said deputy mayor Lesa Heebner.

The concern, she went to explain, is that, potentially, people with motives of developing the fairgrounds could be appointed to the governing board. The bond covenants have been written to hypothetically prevent that from happening by stating its revenue sources: the fair, horse racing, and other agricultural uses.

“But what’s to prevent [the fairgrounds] from being developed and having more revenue sources?,” Heebner asked. “And what’s to prevent a developer from taking over and saying ‘You know, there are a lot more profits to be had, let’s pay off those bonds, therefore we don’t have the covenant any longer. And therefore we can pave over the wetlands, build out the old master plan, or something worse.’”

Hilliard responded, saying Del Mar decided to use the California Community Development Corporation model of governance because “it seems to be working, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we couldn’t use a different model, or we couldn’t tweak the model that we started off with.”

“We’ve tried to make this [legislation] as bulletproof as possible, but your input would be terrific, as well,” he added.

A few of the council members also questioned why some of those board members could not be elected officials, pointing to other successful examples, such as the River Valley JPA and the San Diego River Valley JPA. Some also said they felt Solana Beach should be entitled to more than the proposed one seat on the board because the city is so impacted by the fairgrounds.

Concerns aside, all council members made it clear that they were open to learning more before taking a final stance on the topic. Hilliard said Del Mar is equally open to starting a dialogue.

“We’re certainly up for sitting down and having discussion with your group,” he said. “We want to foster and maintain the good relationship we have [with the City of Solana Beach].”

The topic of Solana Beach supporting Del Mar brought out several Solana Beach residents who spoke their minds, including a few former elected officials: Margaret Schlesinger, who served as the city’s first mayor from 1986 to 1988; Celine Olson, who served as mayor in 1992; and Tom Golich, who served on council fro 1999 to 2004. All of them said they were in favor of supporting Del Mar’s efforts to purchase the fairgrounds. Marion Dodson, who served as mayor from 1989 to 1990, also spoke, telling council “not to take a stand on this until you know what your share is.”

Those talks between the Del Mar and Solana Beach ad hoc committees are expected to happen within the next couple of weeks.