Fairgrounds sale: update, what’s next?

DEL MAR — With the 2011 session under way, state Sen. Kristine Kehoe introduced new legislation Dec. 6 authorizing the sale of the Del Mar Fairgrounds to the city of Del Mar.
Senate Bill 1 replaces Assembly Bill 181, which was introduced by Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña in October and pulled almost immediately. It expired Nov. 30 when the 2010 session ended.
If all goes according to the regular legislative process, AB 1 can be acted on any time after Jan. 6, once committee members are appointed. That usually happens in the middle of the month.
The bill will then be assigned to a committee or committees for a first hearing, during which testimony can be presented.
“During this process … it’s helpful for people to write letters of support,” Councilman Carl Hilliard said during the Dec. 13 City Council meeting.
The bill can be amended once or several times and will then be passed, which takes a majority vote of the full committee, or defeated.
If SB 1 passes through the committee, it will be heard twice in the Senate. During the third reading, Kehoe will explain the bill. It will be discussed and a roll-call vote will follow. SB 1 needs 21 votes to pass.
If it is defeated, Kehoe can ask for reconsideration and another vote. If the bill passes the Senate, it must go through the same process in the Assembly, where 41 votes will be required for passage.
Once both houses approve the bill it goes to the governor for a signature or veto. If he chooses to do nothing, it becomes law and the sale is authorized.
Hilliard described SB 1 as “pretty generic,” saying the previous bill was “much more specific as to the details of the transaction.”
“But Gov. Schwarzenegger, we’re told, wanted to have a vanilla bill and that’s what’s there,” he said.
The $120 million purchase price, the appraised value, remains the same. Assemblyman Martin Garrick, in whose district the facility is located, said he believes the price is too low because it is based solely on revenues from the fair and horse races and not the 300-plus other events held there.
Some say given the coastal location and nearby wetlands, the site could be worth up to $1 billion. Others claim the price is fair because the site can’t be developed due to the wetlands.
SB 1 does not rule out a public bidding process.
“The sale … may be pursuant to a public bidding process designed to obtain the highest, most certain return for the state from a responsible bidder, and any transaction based on such a bidding process shall be deemed to be the fair market value for the property, or may be a negotiated sale to the City of Del Mar,” the bill states.
Unlike AB 181, SB 1 doesn’t include language requiring Del Mar to continue the San Diego County Fair and horse racing, however, city officials have said there are no plans to change those previous requirements.
Del Mar received a letter of support from the Thoroughbred Owners of California, considered a “very influential” group within the horse racing industry, Hilliard said.
“These letters are not easy to get,” he said. “We hear that there will also be a similar endorsement … coming from the Thoroughbred Trainers Association.”
The mayors of San Diego, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside, El Cajon, San Marcos and Lemon Grove, county Supervisor Pam Slater-Price and groups such as the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, San Diego Coastkeeper and Surfrider Foundation have also submitted support letters.
Del Mar is still working to get a similar endorsement from Solana Beach. Council members in that adjacent jurisdiction said they are hesitant to support the sale without some guarantees they would be more involved in solving ongoing problems with noise, traffic, parking and public safety reimbursement.
On Dec. 2, Solana Beach council members unanimously adopted a resolution of intention stating, among other things, that the city would like to partner with Del Mar on the purchase and have equal representation on the governing board.
While Del Mar officials said they are open to equal representation, they have not expressed support for shared ownership.
“I really have trouble conceiving how dual ownership … would actually work,” Councilman Don Mosier said during a meeting last month. “I think having Solana Beach own part of the fairgrounds is a nonstarter.”
“I don’t see how we can possibly accommodate their request for shared ownership and partnership,” Hilliard said.
Given the legislative process, Hilliard said the earliest they expect action on the bill is late January or early February in a best-case scenario.

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