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Fairgrounds officials advance plan for homeless veterans housing

Rental cars companies are storing thousands of vehicles at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, seen in April.
(Union-Tribune)

Property lease among ventures considered to boost revenue at Del Mar property

Del Mar Fairgrounds officials are pushing ahead with a preliminary plan to install temporary housing for homeless veterans on the property, one of several ideas for boosting revenue.

“There has been quite a bit of progress on the Fixx proposal,” said Don Mosier, a medical doctor, Scripps Research professor and former Del Mar City Council member now serving on the 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors, which oversees the state-owned fairgrounds, at a board meeting June 16.

Fixx Solutions is a small, little-known Los Angeles-area company that has proposed to install, maintain and oversee the housing. The fairgrounds would receive revenue from leasing the site, but otherwise would not be involved.

“We would like to have other options to consider and compare with the Fixx proposal,” Mosier said by email Wednesday, June 17, when asked about the details.

“Staff is still doing due diligence on other Fixx projects to determine how they fared,” he said. “Some state, county or city entity will need to pay for housing the homeless, an important detail still to be determined.”

Fairgrounds officials are talking with city, county and state authorities to learn more about how to accomplish the housing project, Mosier said. It’s seen as a possible replacement for the temporary shelter that now has about 1,300 occupants at the San Diego Convention Center.

“We anticipate that the convention center will close soon ... and the county will have to find places for those individuals,” Mosier said.

As many as 1,000 modular units would arrive pre-assembled and could be occupied without water, sewer or electrical system hookups. They could have independent water sources and generators, or those services could be connected. The buildings are available in various plans, with up to five rooms each, and can be stacked on top of each other in two or three levels. They could be removed and taken away when no longer needed.

Jeffrey Pink, one of two partners in Fixx Solutions, said Wednesday, June 17, he would like to open the Del Mar shelter with trailer-like, one-bedroom, one-bath units that would be lined up along an outdoor walkway. Food would be delivered to the residents or picked up at a cafeteria on the site.

If that works well, the shelter could transition to the larger, multi-bedroom, stack-able modular units, Pink said.

“We have medical crews, social workers and we work with the nonprofits and cities in the area,” he said. “We work with people who want to get off the streets.”

Pink said he’s a real estate developer who’s built apartments and single-family homes in Los Angeles for 40 years, and he’s had other business ventures including a rental car company.

“We have a good team, very capable,” he said. “We are trying to get homeless people a nice place to stay and get their lives back together. Housing is expensive ... you can’t go to an interview and get a job if you’re living on the street.”

The housing plan is one of multiple avenues the fairgrounds is exploring to make up for mounting deficits left by the cancellation of large events during the COVID-19 crisis, including the San Diego County Fair, which normally would be underway now through July 5.

By the end of this summer, the fairgrounds anticipates a loss of $65 million, or 92 percent of its annual revenue, Deputy General Manager Carlene Moore said Tuesday, June 16.

Fairgrounds officials have applied for loans and grants, and have deferred payments and reduced services where possible, Moore said.

Despite those efforts, officials announced Thursday, June 18, that the fairgrounds will have to lay off more than half its 157 full-time, permanent positions in October if the financial situation does not change.

Some employees could have the option of retiring or moving to another position within the district.

Horse racing returns July 10, but with no spectators in the stands. The racing season will be broadcast live and the operators will be prepared to open the meet to the public if and when the state and county loosen COVID-19 safety protocols.

No spectators means no wagering at the track and no food and beverage sales, which produce most of the revenue from the event. Horse racing is run by the Del Mar Track Club, which pays the 22nd DAA for the use of the facilities.

In the meantime, the fairgrounds is entertaining other opportunities to bring in a few bucks.

One unexpected source of income was the rental of the parking lot to Enterprise and other car rental companies to store their surplus inventory idled by the pandemic. That contract nets about $70,000 a month.

A more recent innovation was the decision to bring in vendors to sell fair food without the fair.

That kicked off in May and proved popular with items such as kettle corn, corn dogs and funnel cakes, bringing $30,000 in sales for the month. More foods, including turkey legs, cinnamon rolls and cotton candy, added this month are expected to at least triple sales.

Patrons can drive through the fairgrounds and pick up their orders on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings without leaving their car, said Mark Wiggins of Premier Food Services.

A new possibility briefly discussed last week was a drive-in theater, which could be opened in the parking lot with vehicles spaced apart to meet COVID-19 distancing requirements.

Bathrooms and food were issues, “but we still have potential there,” said fair board Director Lisa Barkett.

Also proposed was the installation of a solar array and batteries to store electricity generated by sunlight.

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


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