Ag. District board agrees to settle lawsuit


By Joe Tash

With a vote in closed session on Tuesday, Nov. 20, the board that oversees the Del Mar Fairgrounds resolved another in a series of legal issues that have entangled the organization in recent years.

The board of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which operates the state-owned fairgrounds, voted to settle a lawsuit filed against the district by the cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach and the San Dieguito River Park regarding the district’s master plan for upgrading its facilities.

The lawsuit challenged the adequacy of environmental studies conducted in support of the master plan.

“We’re very pleased and excited with the settlement we’ve achieved,” said board president Adam Day following Tuesday’s board meeting. “This is a win-win for our agencies and the public we serve.”

Last month, a judge issued a split ruling on a similar lawsuit filed against the district by the Sierra Club, ordering that additional environmental studies be conducted before the 22nd DAA moves forward with its renovation plans.

Earlier this year, the 22nd DAA settled a longstanding dispute with the California Coastal Commission over alleged violations of the state Coastal Act by the fairgrounds.

Day said the settlement of the lawsuit with the cities and the river park joint powers authority is a “huge step in the right direction” in working with the other agencies on issues of mutual concern.

The 22nd DAA board was the last of the four parties related to the lawsuit to officially approve the settlement; earlier, the Del Mar and Solana Beach city councils and the river park JPA board had voted to approve the settlement agreement.

Del Mar Mayor Carl Hilliard said it was “good news” to learn that the 22nd DAA board had approved the settlement.

“It represents a new chapter of cooperation, I think, between the fairgrounds and surrounding communities and that’s a very good thing,” Hilliard said.

Solana Beach Mayor Joe Kellejian also welcomed news of the fair board’s action.

“I believe it’s a giant step towards a better understanding between the fairgrounds and the city of Solana Beach. I think the fair board now has a clear understanding of what impacts the fairgrounds has on our community,” Kellejian said.

Day did not release a copy of the settlement agreement Tuesday. He said the document would receive a final edit and then be submitted to the court. Once the court has accepted the agreement, it will become public.

But Day did provide some details of the agreement. For example, the fairgrounds will not install a controversial electronic sign along Interstate 5, or lighting for sports fields on top of planned new exhibit halls. The fairgrounds agreed to provide additional traffic control — including the possibility of a new traffic signal — at the Solana Gate on Via del la Valle during the San Diego County Fair and horse-racing meet.

The fairgrounds will consider relocating a planned new parking structure and study other intersections around the facility to determine if additional traffic control measures are needed.

While the fairgrounds had earlier dropped plans to build a hotel on its property, under the settlement the 22nd DAA agreed not to reconsider the hotel option for at least five years, Day said.

The 22nd DAA has also agreed to conduct a study of the financial impacts of the fairgrounds on its neighbors, including the cost of municipal services and infrastructure provided by Del Mar and Solana Beach, as well as the economic benefits provided to the cities by fairground events, Day said.

The cities have long contended that the 22nd DAA does not pay its fair share for municipal services provided by its neighbors.

In other action on Tuesday, Nov. 20, the fair board:

•Approved a 2013 operating budget which projects $65.3 million in revenue and $62.8 million in expenses. General parking fees will remain $10 for next year’s fair, but preferred parking will increase to $20 from $15, and non-fair parking will increase to $10 from $9.

•Approved a $155,000 contract with the Steve Miller Band to perform on Saturday, June 15, during next year’s county fair. Fairgoers will need to purchase a ticket to attend the concert.

•Joined local cities and public agencies in supporting a lawsuit by the County Water Authority against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, over the water wholesaler’s pricing policies.