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City writes letter on fairgrounds

COAST CITIES — Although Solana Beach supports regional control and management of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, it opposes any one entity owning or operating the site, Mayor Lesa Heebner and Councilman Dave Roberts stated in an Aug. 3 letter sent to Del Mar Mayor Don Mosier and Councilman Mark Filanc.
Heebner and Roberts, who make up their city’s ad hoc committee addressing the proposed sale of the fairgrounds, sent the letter following reports that Del Mar was continuing its efforts to buy the state-owned property after the two cities reached a “gentlemen’s agreement… to work as partners.”
“We feel that it is important for us, as representatives of the Solana Beach City Council, to clarify our position,” the letter states.
In addition to not supporting sole ownership, the letter states that Solana Beach opposes the proposed governance model because it doesn’t adequately ensure that Del Mar would not have ultimate control over the use, management and operations of horse racing and fairgrounds activities.
The concept is also “cumbersome” and “vulnerable” to operational and management conflicts between horse racing and non-horse racing activities, according to the letter.
“It does not provide a clear resolution mechanism other than through the Probate Court System, nor does it provide for adequate regional input and control of the operations or future operations of this regional asset,” the letter states.
Heebner and Roberts said Solana Beach would work with regional and state representatives to assure that all activities at the fairgrounds are comprehensively governed and controlled by a regional entity designed to prevent overdevelopment and preserve the natural resources and agricultural mission of the property in perpetuity.
Del Mar offered to buy the site, which makes up 20 percent of the city, in July 2009 when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed selling it to close the state budget deficit.
After months of negotiations, Schwarzenegger agreed to the $120 million sale.
Gov. Jerry Brown hasn’t said whether he supports the purchase but a bill authorizing the sale has been put on hold.
According to Del Mar’s proposed governance model, called a public benefit trust indenture, a nine-member board would operate the fair and other activities.
That board will include one appointed representative each from Del Mar, Solana Beach, the city and county of San Diego, the San Diego Farm Bureau and the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority. Three members from other San Diego cities would serve on a rotating basis.
The purchase was to be funded with a $45 million state loan and $45 million in bonds secured by fair and track revenues.
A group of horsemen were going to provide the remaining $30 million in exchange for a 55-year lease to operate horse racing at the site, but have since pulled out of the deal.
“No one community should own the fairgrounds,” Roberts said. “We’re disappointed Del Mar continues to head in one direction.”
Del Mar Councilman Carl Hilliard said ownership by more than one entity would be a wasteful duplication of services. He said his city has vowed to continue horseracing and the annual fair if the sale is successful.
But the city has no business running a fair or horseracing, he said. That’s one reason Del Mar proposed the public trust.
“Del Mar is the only one to come up with a finance plan,” Hilliard said. “And it’s in our city limits. We could provide better services.”
Solana Beach officials have said all along they oppose sole ownership. Roberts said they thought talks were beginning to indicate Del Mar might agree to a partnership.