Deal reached: there will be a midway of games and rides at the San Diego County Fair this year

Lights of the San Diego County Fair 2019 in Del Mar
Samantha Sloss and Antonio Robles stand at the edge of the San Dieguito River as they watch the lights of the San Diego County Fair in June 2019 in Del Mar.
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Marathon negotiating sessions over the weekend led to a settlement that clears the way for the carnival midway at the 2022 fair


After a weekend of lengthy discussions, a deal was reached Monday, April 18, that will allow a full array of rides and games at the San Diego County Fair this year.

The status of the midway had been in jeopardy since April 5, when Superior Court Judge Kenneth Medel issued an injunction blocking a contract awarded by the 22nd District Agricultural Association for a single company to run the midway. The district oversees the fairgrounds where the annual event is held.

Medel found that the award violated competitive bidding principles in state law, because the district had not followed procedures under public contracting codes and the qualifications to bid had been tailored to favor one company, Ray Cammack Shows, or RCS.

A competitor, Talley Amusements, had filed a lawsuit and contended the district was playing favorites and attempting to steer the potentially lucrative contract toward RCS.

John Moot, the lawyer for Talley, said that under the terms of the deal the district will put on what is known as an independent midway — one where individual companies with rides and games ink contracts with the district for the annual event.

That is how the district ran the midway for decades, before deciding in 2020 it wanted one contract with a master operator, citing efficiency and cost savings. Under that system the master operator could subcontract out games, rides and food, but it also pushed out many independent operators who had come to the fair for years.

“The parties have agreed to meet and work out the details of the allocation of rides and games at the 2022 fair, with Talley, RCS and other independent midway operators participating in that process,” Moot said. Those meetings will take place over the next week, he said.

In a statement issued by marketing director Jennifer Hellman, the district said it is “pleased to have reached this agreement” and was now looking forward to a return of the fair from June 8 through July 4.

At one point last week, lawyers for the district said that if Medel’s injunction was not lifted the entire fair would have to be canceled. The chief operations officer said in a declaration in support of a bid by the district to stay the injunction that there was not enough staff to run an independent midway, since the district had laid off 85 percent of its workers because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The deal was reached Monday, April 18, following negotiating sessions over the weekend, which were supervised by San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier. Moot said the sides met on Friday, April 15, from 1:30 to 8 p.m. They returned in an extraordinary session on Saturday, April 16, meeting at the empty downtown courthouse from 8 a.m. until noon, he said.

The lawsuit filed by Talley has revealed testimony from former fair officials that scores for contracts were changed twice last year to favor RCS. Under the deal announced Monday, April 18, the lawsuit will be temporarily halted until the fair is over. The suit will not be dismissed as a condition of the deal, Moot said.

That lawsuit was filed last year over a previous contract competition. At that time the district declared RCS was the winner of a contract to operate the midway at the 2021 fair. But Talley said its scores were full of errors that lowered the total score and allowed RCS to prevail, and it filed a formal protest.

Days later the district withdrew the contract award, citing the cancelation of the fair because of COVID-19. Talley then sued.

Meanwhile, the district put on Home Grown Fun, a scaled-down version of the annual event. Months later it again put out a call for proposals to be midway operator. Talley did not submit a bid and contended in its lawsuit that the criteria to be a bidder were written in a way that only RCS would qualify.

In pursuing that lawsuit, Moot took depositions of two former district officials, including Michael Ceragioli, the manager for contracts. Ceragioli testified that Talley’s scores were not the result of errors, but had been intentionally changed, twice, at the direction of CEO Carlene Moore. The changes led to RCS winning the bid by less than a point.

In a court declaration Moore said she disputed Ceragioli’s testimony about their interactions. She said the directions for how to score proposals allowed “erasing scores and using multiple draft score sheets to determine a final score...”

Under the rules of the competition the technical portion of a proposal, which describes various aspects of the services the company would provide for the fair, was calculated first. A second portion spelling out the financial aspect of a proposal was then opened and reviewed, with the highest combined score winning.

In his ruling issuing the injunction, Medel noted that Moore never refuted several key parts of Ceragiol’s testimony, including that Talley’s technical scores were changed after the financial proposals were opened.

One longtime ride and game operator said he welcomed the settlement and opportunity to return to the fair.

“This is a huge potential opportunity for me,” said Davey Helm, the owner of Helm and Sons Amusements in Riverside. “It’s very exciting I could have a chance of going back.”

Details of how the midway will be laid out will be worked out over the next week. In a statement RCS, whose contract to operate the midway was blocked by Medel’s ruling, said its goal was to produce good entertainment for the fair.

“To make sure San Diego has a 2022 fair, RCS sat down with the district and representatives from Talley Amusements, with the assistance of Judge Frazier, to work out a compromise to ensure the fair takes place this year,” the company said.

The fair attracts 1.5 million visitors a year and the revenue it produces accounts for 57 percent of the district’s budget.


5:54 a.m. April 19, 2022: This article has been updated with additional information about the deal.