Troubles At The Del Mar Fairgrounds
February 22, 2012 1:10 p.m.
Guests: Logan Jenkins, columnist, UT San Diego
Adam Day, President, board of directors, 22nd Agricultural District.
Related Story: Trouble At The Del Mar Fairgrounds
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's months away from county fair and racing reason, but that doesn't mean all is quiet at the Fairgrounds. The Fairgrounds' managing agency just announced a landmark agreement with the California coastal commission regarding its oversight of the 400-acre property. And there's a hubbub and new a resignation on the fair's board of directors. Joining me are my guests, Logan Jenkins is North County columnist for UT San Diego. Welcome.
JENKINS: Hi, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Adam Day is here, president of the Del Mar Fairgrounds board of directors. Welcome.
DAY: Thank you very much for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Logan, the board member who resigned is a rather recent appointee. Tom chino of chino farms in Rancho Santa Fe. Tell us about him and what he did as a board member that was different from business as usual.
JENKINS: Well, Tom chino is the owner, manager of probably the most well-known organic farm in San Diego County. Well-known chef like Wolfgang puck, you know, get their produce from the farms. And it was something out of character. But chino was appointed with four other new appointees by governor brown last summer. And chino in his resignation letter, which he sent in on Valentine's day said that he had gone in, hoping that he would contribute to -- on the farming front. But he rapidly became a kind of prosecutor, finding fault with some of the past practices of the Fairgrounds. Things like showering tickets on board members and giving pay for vacation time. So he got sideways with the -- with some of his colleagues. He was also -- one of the problems that he encountered was there was an e-mail stream in which he was communicating with a lawyer who founded a law firm that was representing the San Diegito river park, JPA, which was in a lawsuit against the Fairgrounds.
CAVANAUGH: I see.
JENKINS: So on Valentine's day, Chino threw up his hands and said I'm out of here.
CAVANAUGH: He also wanted the board to have open meetings, right?
JENKINS: That's correct. That was one of his crusades. And he might have gotten some support on the board, but he became isolated, didn't really work well with the other board members. And he didn't get any support for changing that policy, at least as quickly as he would like.
CAVANAUGH: Adam Day, what's your reaction to losing Tom chino from the board?
DAY: Well, I looked forward to the opportunity to serve with Tom. He's well-respected and regarded in the agricultural community. And I was surprised and saddened to see him go. But you'd have to talk to Tom directly to understand his rationality. It makes for a good story line, the implication that this board of directors is not committed to transparency would simply be inaccurate. This new board, new president, we have five new members, we are working aggressively on assuring transparency and accountability to the public. We're a public agency. And we have made a number of reforms and changes in the last six months, all of which I'm very proud of. And I moon I colleagues are too.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us a little bit about the changes that you've made. I know there have been practices in the past that have been subject to a great deal of criticism, like Logan was saying about board members getting a lot of freebies. Tickets and compensation for their time and their expense accounts and so forth. What changes have you made?
DAY: One of the most publicized is the issue of vacation payouts. When I became president of the board last July and was made aware of this practice, I immediately stopped the practice over a month before Mr. Chino joined the board. We've also made changes to our committee structure. How those committee meetings are held in public, notices to the public, and insuring we have wide outreach to the public and interested parties, and a whole series of efforts to make sure that the public is included, aware of what we're doing, and that we're specify to them.
CAVANAUGH: And the kind of open meetings that chino wanted?
JENKINS: Does that include committee meetings, Adam?
DAY: If it's an ad hoc, special committee on personnel issues or litigation, obviously not. But we've opened up some of our committees meetings more than have ever been opened before.
CAVANAUGH: Let me move onto a topic that will most certainly have a greater impact on the Fairgrounds in the long-term. The board reached an agreement with the commissioner that were long time coming. Tell me what the points of contention were, and tell us about the agreement.
JENKINS: Well, just to back up a little bit, the Fairgrounds has argued for the past several years that the coastal commission might not have jurisdiction because the Fairgrounds were -- they go back to THE '30s, and the coastal act didn't pass until 1976. So that's been an area of dispute. But specifically, there were issues like tents and concert stages, and part of the overflow parking that the coastal commission found to be in violation. So in what I would see as a culture shift, very recently, the Fairgrounds hammered out an agreement with the coastal commission staff, and now I believe that the figure is nearly $5†million that the Fairgrounds is going to spend for environmental improvements over the next -- I've heard two time periods, ten years and 20 years. But anyway, it's a substantial amount of money. And I believe it does signal a culture shift, and it's possible that Tom chino and others, new members of the board, helped push that process along.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Adam Day, when one thinks of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, one doesn't immediately think -- I think of a coastal area. Tell us what kinds of sensitive areas there are in that 400-acre facility, and what this agreement is that you've made with the California coastal commission.
DAY: Well, I would characterize this as a monumental agreement. I've been on the board only around three years. These issues have been going on for ten years. I want to give great credit to the entire board, and especially David Watson, one of the new members. We worked for the last six weeks meeting with the commission staff up in San Francisco and hammering out this agreement. The environmental resources at the Fairgrounds are significant and very, very important to all of the people of San Diego County. Riparian habitat, coastal issues, access, visual, very, very significant. And this agreement is truly historic as Logan said. And it's I very good news story. I encourage your listeners to take a look at our website and take a look at the agreement. And to come down to the commission's hearing on March 8th in the Chula Vista City Hall where they'll be reviewing and hopefully approving this agreement.
CAVANAUGH: The report was that the Fairgrounds are going to make about fireplace million dollars in environmental improvements. What kind of environmental improvements?
DAY: Most significantly we've agreed to completely restore the south overflow lot to wetlands, over a period of three years. That is a huge accomplishment for the environment that we all enjoy. We've committed to creating 100-foot buffers over the south and east overflow lots, removing riprap.
CAVANAUGH: What is riprap?
DAY: Concrete fill, artificial fill. We're contributing money to the San Diegito JPA. That's just a few of literally more than a dozen very significant improvements to the environment.
CAVANAUGH: When people come to the dell par for a, they all park in a dirt parking lot.
DAY: Well, there's a south overflow, and an east. Part of this agreement, the south overflow will be completely gone. So David Watson, a new board member, he's been working very hard to develop a comprehensive transportation and shuttle program for this fair, this year's fair, and for all future fairs so that we can accommodate the 1-1/2 million visitors while also restoring that area to wetlands.
CAVANAUGH: As Logan mentioned, this is a real change for the board of the Del Mar Fairgrounds. In the past, some of the coastal commissioners were quoted as feeling hopeless in what they called one violation after another by the Fairgrounds. So what was the change? What was this change of attitude?
DAY: Well, I can't look backward or speak to the past. But I can tell you that this board with myself as new president, and five new board members, we are taking our responsibilities seriously. We're setting the tone from the top. We want to conduct our business in an open and transparent way, and want to be good, responsible neighbors with the coastal commission and the cities of Del Mar and Solana beach.
CAVANAUGH: Now, the directors of the 22nd agricultural association, they're unpaid. And that means you're unpaid. So why do you do it?
DAY: Well, I was asked to service by the previous governor. But there are significant resources. We're a regional assert with over half a billion dollars in economic impact every year. A significant resource to the people of San Diego, south of the border, and up to Orange County. So we do a lot of work, and the staff does a great job there. We're always looking to improve, and we welcome constructive criticism and assistance along the way.
CAVANAUGH: Logan, I just read this morning, it just happened this morning that the legislation that would have allowed the Sacramento to allow the sale of the Del Mar Fairgrounds to Del Mar, that legislation just basically expired. Where does that leave things? Does that mean that the Del Mar Fairgrounds is not going to be sold? Or does that mean it needs a new piece of legislation to be introduced?
JENKINS: Well, I suppose like Lazarus, it could be resurrected. But for the time being, it's dead. It was an extremely contentious issue. And I think that was one of the exacerbating factors, where the Fairgrounds essentially, the board really declared war against Del Mar, and Del Mar was shooting back with this notion of buying it. But for the time being anyway, Maureen, it's dead.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. And so that means the state gets to keep this really rather important asset.
JENKINS: Well, that's right. Governor brown would -- is the key factor here. He apparently had no interest in selling the Fairgrounds. So it's now back to.
CAVANAUGH: Back to where it was. And really quickly, that public meeting is March 9th?
DAY: March 8th at Chula Vista City Council chambers. I believe it starts at 9:00. And we are one of the first items up.
CAVANAUGH: Terrific. Thank you both very much.
DAY: Thank you.
JENKINS: Thank you.