Del Mar Fairgrounds employees told of upcoming layoffs

Tim Fennell, general manager and CEO of the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Administration says full-time staff to be cut by 58 percent


The 22nd District Agricultural Association, which operates the Del Mar Fairgrounds, announced Thursday, June 18, its staff of 157 full-time, year-round employees could be reduced by 58 percent in October.

Various positions across the fairgrounds were notified of potential layoffs if the district’s dire financial situation does not improve. The staff would be reduced to just 60 employees if no large events can be held through the fall.

The 22nd DAA depends almost entirely on revenue from the events it holds, including the San Diego County Fair, which have all been canceled this year because of precautions taken to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fairgrounds across the state are in financial freefall.

Del Mar officials said at their board of directors meeting Tuesday, June 16, that they expect their revenue for the year to be down by $65 million by the end of the summer, or 92 percent of what was budgeted for the year.

State law requires employees to be given 120 days of notice, making the official date of the layoffs Oct. 15. The long notice allows time for the people affected to find other jobs, retire or move to a lesser position if they can.

“Our goal was to keep critical positions, such as senior leadership and those that are critical for the facility to operate under the assumption of zero events,” said Human Resources Director Melinda Carmichael.

“This skeletal framework will allow us to get through these tough times and also to support the framework for the future,” she said.

Notices were delivered to all employees in any job classification that could be affected, she said. For example, if there are two plumbers on the staff and one of them will be laid off, both were notified of the potential layoff even though only the least senior one would be laid off.

“It is with a heavy heart that we must make the difficult decision to reduce staffing at this time,” said Tim Fennell, CEO and general manager of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, in a written announcement Thursday, June 18.

“Until it is safe to host events again, reducing our staffing levels is crucial to the survival of the Del Mar Fairgrounds,” he said.

“We must preserve this community treasure in order to continue its legacy for future generations as an economic engine for the region and a beloved entertainment and education destination. I look forward to the day when we can operate at full strength again.”

-- Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune