Solana Beach wants more input regarding possible new Del Mar Fairgrounds governance model

By Claire Harlin

Discussions have resumed on the ongoing topic of creating a new governance model for the Del Mar Fairgrounds that would give more power to local cities, and Solana Beach wants more input in those discussions.

San Diego County Supervisors Ron Roberts and Greg Cox have held meetings with the Fairgrounds Board of Directors and the president of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the fairgrounds from a state level, and the cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach have not been included in those discussions, according to a Solana Beach report regarding a resolution passed by the City Council on Feb. 13 supporting a regional governance model. County officials also traveled to Sacramento on Feb. 11 to meet with the governor’s office and state agriculture officials, with no input from local cities.

“It is what it is and we have voiced our displeasure and concern,” said Solana Beach Deputy Mayor Tom Campbell. Campbell added that although the 22nd District Ag. board president Adam Day has expressed a desire to continue strengthening the relationship with local cities, which has seen improvement over the past year, Campbell continues to make “it very clear that the impacted cities need to be represented.”

Campbell said he has hope that local cities will soon have more of a voice, however, because newly elected District 3 Supervisor Dave Roberts, a former Solana Beach councilman, has requested that he replace one of the two supervisors who make up the committee dealing with this issue because his jurisdiction involves three of the fairgrounds’ neighboring cities.

“It is our expectation that will probably happen,” said Campbell, adding that Dave Roberts would be an “ally” to the city.

Solana Beach has proposed that there be a joint powers authority (JPA) between the Ag. board and leaders from local cities — Solana Beach, Del Mar and San Diego. Although there is no concrete model on the table, the Ag. board has been receptive to sharing control with local jurisdictions since the issue came up in 2009, after former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed selling the regional asset. At that time, Del Mar proposed buying the fairgrounds for $120 million, a move that Solana Beach opposed, and local governance has became a contentious topic at that time.

In October, the Board of Supervisors officially voted to look more closely at the potential partnership.

Del Mar on Feb. 4 passed a resolution similar to the one passed unanimously (save for Mayor Mike Nichols who was absent) by Solana Beach on Feb. 13 urging more local control.

City Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said she supports the county handing down more local control, however, she has “grave concerns” about how representatives from neighboring cities would be chosen. She therefore proposed language, accepted by the council, that clarified in the resolution that the City Council should have appointing power in Solana Beach.

Currently, the county is the sole local operator of the fairgrounds, and Heebner expressed that there is a difference in philosophy, mission and values between the operations of Solana Beach and the county.

She also said she is confident that involved entities are close to resolving issues and agreeing on a good governance model.

“I wasn’t wild about how that happened, that we weren’t involved,” she said. “But let’s not focus on that, and let’s move forward in a positive way.”