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Discussions continue regarding fairgrounds purchase

DEL MAR — The potential $120 million purchase of the Del Mar Fairgrounds by the city in which it is located was discussed at no less than four meetings during the second week of March. Here is an update on the deal with some highlights of what was said and done.
Senate Bill 1
On Dec. 6, 2010, Sen. Christine Kehoe introduced SB1, which authorizes the Department of General Services to negotiate terms for the sale of the fairgrounds to Del Mar or to reopen the bidding. Bills must sit for 30 days before any action can be taken. On Feb. 10, SB 1 was referred to the Rules Committee and Government Organization Committee, which deals with bills relating to horseracing, public gaming, alcoholic beverages and legislation permitting the use of state-controlled lands. Sen. Mark Wyland, whose 38th District includes most of North County beginning in Solana Beach, sits on the Government Organization Committee. Deanna Spehn, Kehoe’s policy director, said hearings probably won’t begin for another three to eight weeks because the Legislature is currently focused on the budget.
Support: Schwarzenegger vs. Brown
The original deal was negotiated with former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who could not run for re-election in 2010 because of term limits. While Gov. Jerry Brown said he does not support the sale of state-owned office buildings, he “has voiced no opposition to the sale,” Spehn said, adding that Kehoe’s office has been “assured by the head of the Department of Finance and other senior staff within the Brown administration” that the governor has not received a formal briefing on the sale because he is focused on the budget. The proposed budget has eliminated $32 million in general fund support to local and county agricultural activities and fairs.
The Garrick Survey
When news of the potential sale broke in October, Assemblyman Martin Garrick said his office was “inundated” with calls from concerned residents. Garrick mailed a survey to constituents in his 74th District, which includes most of North County north of Del Mar. The survey was also available online. According to the 4,497 survey responses submitted:
— 71 percent opposed the sale.
— 81 percent felt they should be able to weigh in on any proposed sale.
— 71 percent indicated the biggest concern was that private investors would decide the fate of this public treasure.
— 77 percent felt horseracing should continue on the property.
A majority responded that the state should continue to manage the facility although no specific number was indicated.
Some critics say the survey results are flawed because there was no way to determine if one person completed it once or multiple times. It was also conducted before details of the plan, such as the purchase price, trust indenture and governance model, were revealed.
Support: Neighbor & Labor
Del Mar has been trying to secure a letter of support from Solana Beach. Residents in that adjacent city share many of the same goals — local control, preserving the wetlands, limiting development and recovering costs to provide public services. However, officials are unsure about the proposed purchase and governance models. Del Mar is suggesting to buy the property under a public trust that would limit what can and can’t be done on the site. Everything but horseracing would be managed by a nonprofit board made up of representatives from nine different jurisdictions. Solana Beach officials have suggested a joint powers authority buy and run the approximately 400-acre facility, but haven’t ruled out the Del Mar proposal. They have attorneys reviewing the plans.
Meanwhile, the city has received letters of support from The Jockeys’ Guild and California Teamsters Public Affairs Council. The San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council said they would also support the purchase if the city would honor all labor agreements and worker retention principles and if SB 1 included language that made similar guarantees. Council authorized staff to draft a document that the city supports those requests.
“Having, in the past, acquired quite a few companies, one of the assets that you look at … is the work force, and we certainly appreciate the quality of the work force (at the fairgrounds),” Councilman Carl Hilliard said. “I want to give every assurance … that it’s our full intention to continue on with that work force. We wouldn’t throw away one of the best assets over there.”
Community Input
Del Mar hosted an informal workshop March 9 to garner public input. Residents were concerned that Del Mar would have only one seat on the governing board. They also want assurance the city won’t be on the hook financially if the facility loses money. Overall, they support the purchase, especially because the city would finally have zoning control.
“This may be one of the most important issues I’ve ever seen (in this city),” 23-year resident John Graybill said. “We need to continue to press ahead to preserve what’s important in Del Mar.”
“Whatever we do, let’s get going with it,” Sharon Hilliard said.

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