DEL MAR — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors could begin discussions with the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the Del Mar Fairgrounds, about a potential partnership for operational oversight of the 340-acre facility.
Many stakeholders say it is a positive move that will likely result in more local control over the state-owned site, but some are bothered by the way the proposal took shape, while others have deemed it “an evasion strategy.”
Adam Day, 22nd DAA board president, has been meeting with officials from Gov. Jerry Brown’s office during the past few months to discuss “a number of very exciting possibilities to develop an enhanced level of local governance.”
“It is our joint desire to see a partnership between the District and the County of San Diego,” Day stated in an Oct. 12 letter to Ron Roberts, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
Day wrote that the partnership would not create any financial or legal burden for the county, “but rather serve to provide local control and leadership for this valuable community asset.”
According to an agenda item for the Oct. 31 meeting, Roberts and Vice Chairman Greg Cox will recommend directing the board’s chief administrative officer to open discussions with the 22nd DAA “to explore partnership opportunities” with the county for operational oversight of the fairgrounds and to report back within 60 days.
Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, in whose district the facility is located, said she was surprised by the proposal.
Day said he called all five supervisors and Slater-Price was the only one who didn’t return his call.
“Had Adam Day called I would have certainly taken that phone call,” John Weil, Slater-Price’s chief of staff, said, adding that Slater-Price was not copied on the letter from Day.
“I asked (Ron Roberts’) office,” Weil said. “The letter wasn’t sent to everyone. It is addressed to the board chairman only.”
“(Slater-Price) was a champion of the city of Del Mar’s plan to operate the fairgrounds,” he added. “She believes a new governance should include both the city of Del Mar and the city of Solana Beach. She is open to exploring options.”
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed in 2010 to sell the fairgrounds to Del Mar, in which most of the site is located. Mayor Carl Hilliard said officials in the city and county of San Diego were asked if they wanted to be part of the deal at the time but both declined.
City Council members at the Oct. 22 meeting said they don’t oppose county involvement in governing the fairgrounds, but added that local control must include cities adjacent to the property.
“My concern here is that it appears that the proposal submitted to the Board of Supervisors is a description of how they might work together,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said. “But it does not include anything with the local municipalities that are directly impacted, of course starting with us … Solana Beach, the city of San Diego, the communities up and down the coast.”
Del Mar and Solana Beach have for years complained about traffic, noise and light impacts as well as a loss of revenue to provide services such as fire protection, street maintenance and litter removal for the more than 300 events held annually at the fairgrounds, including the San Diego County Fair and Del Mar Thoroughbred Races.
“I take this as an early warning signal that we’ve got an evasion strategy going on,” Del Mar Councilman Don Mosier said of Day’s letter.
Day said the county is the “logical entity” for local governance since it represents all residents in San Diego. He also said the proposal doesn’t mean Del Mar and Solana Beach wouldn’t have increased say in any future governance model.
“It sounds to me like they are jumping to conclusions,” Day said of the reaction by Del Mar council members.
Hilliard and Sinnott said they would try to meet with all five supervisors before the end of the month. They also plan to make a presentation to the county board at its Oct. 31 meeting.
“Our position is any such discussion needs to include Del Mar, where 90 percent of the activities occur,” Hilliard said.
Solana Beach Mayor Joe Kellejian said officials in his city continue to have a “strong interest in participating in the process.” He hadn’t heard about the proposal until Oct. 23, but after reading the agenda item, he said it indicates, “The county is willing to work with its partners in the North County and along the coast.”
Steve Danon and Dave Roberts, who are running to fill Slater-Price’s seat in the Nov. 6 election, said they support Day’s proposal.
“I have served on the 22nd DAA Community Relations Committee for eight years and am pleased that the county seems to be supporting our community’s concept for a regional solution that serves all residents of San Diego County,” Roberts said. “Should I win my supervisor race … I plan to continue playing a key role in this regional effort.”
“I strongly support local control by the cities of Del Mar, Solana Beach, San Diego and the county of San Diego to protect this regional asset,” Danon said.