Fairgrounds officials develop strategic plan for the future

Sign at the Del Mar Fairgrounds
(File photo)

The 22nd Agricultural District’s board of directors has begun a strategic planning process to guide the future of the fairgrounds, precipitated in part by declining attendance at the county fair and revenue from horse racing.

The board hired management consulting firm Peter Barron Stark to help guide the process.

At the board’s Tuesday, Oct. 8 meeting, board member David Watson mentioned the shifting public perception about horse racing, including activists who want to end the sport. California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently told the New York Times that horse racing is “a sport whose time is up unless they reform.”

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club President Josh Rubinstein told board members the governor’s words were “disappointing,” given the safety measures the Del Mar Fairgrounds has adopted over the past few years. Its past season ended with four horse deaths during training and none during racing. But the controversies surrounding the sport were magnified by 30 horse deaths during the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita.

Board President Richard Valdez said he hopes the fairgrounds can “turn the corner” with better numbers during the next horse racing season. The board will consider its next budget in December. The strategic planning initiative will be a long-term process.

Watson also said he heard from local residents who told him they don’t typically plan to attend the San Diego County Fair every year. The district’s financial disclosures show $9.42 million in revenue from fair admissions, about $818,000 less than the $10.24 million the board anticipated in the 2019 budget.

“I think we need to be very thoughtful and strategic,” Watson said of the future for the fairgrounds.

Other changes on the horizon include the future of energy throughout North County. Del Mar and Solana Beach are entering into a Community Choice Energy (CCE) program with the cities of Carlsbad, Santee and San Diego County. CCEs allow local jurisdictions to band together and purchase energy that can be distributed to residents and businesses as an alternative to their existing energy providers, such as San Diego Gas & Electric. The North County CCE, which will be known as the Clean Energy Alliance, is aiming to provide a 50% renewable energy option that would provide customers a 2% discount compared to SDG&E’s standard offering.

Board member Don Mosier spoke in favor of the CCE at the Del Mar City Council’s meeting Monday, Oct. 7, when it approved entering into the CCE by a 4-1 vote.

“It does present the opportunity for significant revenue and cost-sharing,” Mosier told his colleagues on the board Tuesday, adding that it would be worth evaluating “what are the issues, what are the pros and cons?”