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City seeks joint ownership of fairgrounds

SOLANA BEACH — Solana Beach is “95 percent in agreement” with Del Mar in its efforts to purchase the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner said during a Jan. 4 press conference at the top of Solana Circle Drive with the famed 340-acre facility as a backdrop.
She thanked Del Mar “for creating a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for local control” of the site but said she and her colleagues differ with their southern neighbors in the ownership and governance model that has been proposed.
They started on the right path, she said, but work still needs to be done. The crowd of approximately 100 people applauded when Heebner said there should be regional control.
Ownership and governance should be shared by those who are most impacted, Heebner said, noting that the site is not “just in our back yard — it’s in our back room.”
Heebner said Solana Beach officials agree with Del Mar’s objective to transfer the state-owned property to local control to protect the wetlands, prevent overdevelopment and preserve traditional uses such as the fair and horse racing.
“Solana Beach completely agrees with Del Mar on these very worthy goals,” she said, but city officials don’t believe the current model of sole ownership will accomplish those goals.
Sole ownership won’t protect the site forever because it doesn’t provide a “fail safe” for overdevelopment, Heebner said.
For true regional control, she proposed the formation of a joint powers authority made up of all public entities impacted by the site, including the cities of San Diego, Del Mar and Solana Beach, the county of San Diego and the San Dieguito River Valley.
Heebner said Solana Beach officials believe a JPA is a “very reasonable proposal” that would “guarantee no development.”
A JPA is a sovereign entity made up of two or more public authorities, such as local governments, that operate collectively.
When asked about a response from Del Mar, Heebner said, “We haven’t had any meaningful dialogue.”
“I would beg to differ on that,” Del Mar Councilman Mark Filanc said. “We set up a subcommittee that met six or eight times for a couple of hours each time and had very substantive discussions.
“To say anything less would not be appropriate,” Filanc said.
Filanc and Carl Hilliard make up the Del Mar subcommittee. Heebner, who recently replaced former Mayor Tom Campbell, and Dave Roberts sit on the Solana Beach subcommittee.
Filanc said the notion of a JPA has not been formally presented or discussed in subcommittee meetings, and he’s not sure if it will work or not.
“It’s a very complex negotiation with a public-private partnership but we will look at it,” he said.
Del Mar officials support equal representation from the two cities on the governing board. Both sides agree issues such as traffic, noise and public safety reimbursement need to be addressed.
Neither city supports an expansion plan for the site that includes a convention center, a condominium hotel and rooftop athletic fields. But Del Mar council members have said in the past they don’t believe joint ownership would work.
“For the past year and a half we’ve been looking at ways to make this (purchase) happen,” Filanc said. “We felt we were on the right track. It’s doable financially and it meets the needs of the region.
“The ownership issue is really not as important as minimizing the impacts,” he said. “Joint ownership is not a solution because we have one that will work. What’s the point of changing this? Why disrupt something we worked a year and a half for?”
Del Mar is proposing to purchase the fairgrounds from the state for $120 million. Heebner said Solana Beach has asked state Sen. Kristine Kehoe to amend legislation she introduced authorizing the sale to allow for joint ownership.