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Fair board holds planning meeting to discuss future of Del Mar Fairgrounds

DEL MAR — With the financial future of the fairgrounds as uncertain as it has ever been, the 22nd District Agricultural Association held a strategic planning meeting this week to discuss its goals for the coming year and beyond.

Among the many things discussed at the seven-hour meeting of the board, which controls the Del Mar Fairgrounds, was the fairgrounds’ dependence on horse racing and other short-term events for its financial feasibility.

“I think depending on the horse racing in the long term is a weakness,” Director Don Mosier said during discussions. “In the shorter term, who knows? If the Breeders’ Cup keeps coming back every three years it might not be a weakness, but I think as a long-term strategy it is.”

The fairgrounds has long relied on revenue from the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and the horse racing events at the track. In 2020, before the pandemic began, the fair board projected revenue of close to $23 million from food and beverage sales during track events. This year, with fans allowed back in the stands for the coming racing season, the board is projecting that revenue to be $7.5 million.

There have been more advocates at the fair board meetings in recent months, however, advocating for the end of horse racing at Del Mar.

“The weakness side of it is the public opposition that exists related to horse racing,” Mosier said.

Debra Terry, a San Diego native, was among those who spoke in opposition of horse racing during the public comment portion of the planning meeting this week.

“I am embarrassed to say I attended the horse races once a season. I did that until I realized the fact that I was supporting truly the last of the blood sports still legal,” Terry said. “And hearing people talk about valuing money over the lives of horses just embarrassed me this morning.”

Another topic looming over the fair board and the fairgrounds is the issue of low-income housing that the city of Del Mar is requesting to build on fairgrounds property. Earlier this year, the fair board declined to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the city that would build enough low-income units to help the city hit its target goal as laid out in its 6th Cycle Housing Element.

The city of Del Mar is still pushing the issue and included the project in its most recent housing element with the assumption it will be able to get it done one way or another.

Del Mar Councilwoman Tracy Martinez spoke during the public comment portion of the fair board planning meeting on the topic.

“Our goal is to protect our fragile north and south bluffs, wetlands and lagoon, which are all jeopardized if we cannot achieve our housing mandate,” Martinez said. “Our goal is to work with the fairgrounds on our aligned workforce housing goals for the good of everybody.”

The city of Del Mar has requested to build at least 54 affordable housing units on fairgrounds property.

No decisions were made at the planning meeting, but the topics discussed will likely be ones the fair board will focus on in the coming months and years.