COAST CITIES — The oftentimes acrimonious relationship between officials at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and the adjacent north and south cities seems to be improving, thanks in part to five new board members at the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the 400-acre facility.
Representatives from Del Mar and Solana Beach have complained for years about impacts on those cities from the San Diego County Fair, horse race meet and approximately 300 other annual events held at the fairgrounds.
Although the two cities receive some benefits from fairgrounds activities, they say traffic, noise and light negatively impact residents. They also claim they don’t receive anywhere near full reimbursement for the public safety services they provide.
On June 9, the day before this year’s fair began, Gov. Jerry Brown’s office told three 22nd DAA board members, effective immediately, they were not reappointed to their positions. In August two others received the same news and five new members were named.
Since then city administrators from Del Mar and Solana Beach have met with Lisa Barkett, Tom Chino, David Lizerbram, Frederick Schenk and David Watson.
“These have been pleasant conversations,” Del Mar Mayor Don Mosier said. “They’ve been respectful … and I think they’ve been productive.
“We’ve talked about how the city and the fairgrounds have certain shared objectives, including increasing local visitors and increasing business opportunities, and how we can begin to mitigate some of the negative impacts the fair operation has on our city, particularly the traffic impacts and protection of the environmental resources around the fairgrounds,” he said.
“Tom Chino and David Watson seem to be more attuned to the city’s interests than perhaps the other members, but I think we’re getting some traction with the board,” Mosier said.
“I believe we’ve opened up a dialogue,” Del Mar Councilman Mark Filanc said. “I think we have a significant shift … where we’re listened to with both respect, for one, and understanding that we do have legitimate issues,” he said. “It’s definitely a positive shift with the new fair board members.”
Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner said Watson “brings a new energy,” and her colleague Dave Roberts described him as a “take-charge gentleman.”
“He came up with some suggested plans for us to accomplish — things that we could agree on,” Heebner said.
Representatives from both cities are particularly pleased with proposals to mitigate the impacts from two extra days that are being added to the 2012 fair before that event begins.
Talks are already under way for a shuttle between the two cities and the fairgrounds.
“There seems to be a real commitment to getting that done pretty quickly,” Mosier said. “There’ll be a working group appointed that includes some Del Mar representatives, (Del Mar Village Association) representatives, some people from Solana Beach and us.
“I really appreciate the fact that we’ve got a real deadline to meet, which is not so far away,” he said.
Mosier said the second mitigation measure is improving communication about public transit routes to the fairgrounds, particularly from East County and downtown San Diego.
“That timetable is again to be done before the beginning of fair season next year so those are two positive steps,” Mosier said.
Roberts said there was also talk about redirecting traffic as it leaves the fairgrounds. Under the current plan, visitors are steered away from Solana Beach, which eliminates the possibility of visiting businesses in that community.
According to Roberts, Watson said he wanted a new traffic plan implemented before the 2012 fair.
“And he said, ‘You need to add a wedge to the DAA budget for this,’” Roberts said. “And he said, ‘I want it done by experts. I want a real traffic person to design this thing.’
“I was really impressed by this new energy level,” Roberts said.
“Mayor Don Mosier said he really wants to improve relationships between our two communities and wants to work continually to do that so that we have dialogues on what is important for us,” Roberts said.
Representatives from Del Mar and Solana Beach share the same goals when it comes to mitigating impacts from the fairgrounds. But when Del Mar was proposing to buy the state-owned facility — a deal that is currently on hold in Sacramento — officials from the two cities differed on who should buy it and how it should be governed.
“The only tension between Solana Beach and Del Mar had to do with the governance model were the fairgrounds to be sold,” Mosier wrote in an e-mail.
“Since the sale has become less likely, the issue … has become less relevant,” he wrote. “I believe that we are in full agreement with Solana Beach on most regional issues, and we share their interest in reducing negative impacts of the 22nd DAA on traffic and local businesses.”
Heebner agreed but said she and her colleagues remain staunchly opposed to Del Mar ownership. “We don’t believe it will fulfill the goals both cities have,” she said.
The 22nd DAA also created a transparency subcommittee so more meetings are conducted publically. “I think that was also another good thing,” Roberts said.