DEL MAR — Admitting it may sound “pathetic,” Barry Nussbaum said he plans to reapply for a seat on the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors, which manages the Del Mar Fairgrounds, despite recent news he would no longer serve in the position he has held since 1999.
In a June 9 phone call — the night before the opening of the San Diego County Fair — Nussbaum said Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointments secretary notified him that the governor was not reappointing him.
“It was a surprise,” said Nussbaum, whose term expired in January. “But it’s politics.” He said he was given no reason except that the administration was going to go in a different direction and there would be new appointments to fair boards across the state.
Board members are appointed by the governor to serve a four-year term, which receives no pay, but benefits include free parking and admission to fairground events. Prior to Brown’s decision, Nussbaum was the longest serving current board member and one of only two appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis.
In addition to Nussbaum, who was serving his second term as president, Brown also chose not to reappoint Kelly Burt and Vivian Hardage.
As of June 9, the terms of all but two of the nine directors were up. The terms of the remaining four expired at the same time or earlier than those of the three who weren’t reappointed. All members of the primarily Republican board had been appointed or reappointed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“The board members serve at the pleasure of the governor,” said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Gov. Brown. “There were hundreds of appointments made by the previous administration. The standard practice is for the new governor to make his own appointments.”
Westrup said the expiration of terms is one of many factors taken into account when considering appointments. In terms of other aspects, we don’t get into personnel decisions, he added.
The positions are now vacant and will remain so until filled by the Democratic governor.
“The timeline is dictated by the quality of the applicants and a thorough screening,” Westrup said. “Our goal is to ensure the best possible people are filling those vacancies.”
“Will I miss it?” Nussbaum asked. “Unbelievably. It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve the fairgrounds.”
Growing up in San Diego, Nussbaum said he attended the fair every summer. “My goal was to have a job at the fairgrounds,” he said. “I was thrilled beyond words when I was appointed. Every time I stepped foot there it’s been a thrill. I feel blessed.”
Nussbaum said after the news broke he received several phone calls from people asking him to submit an application. “This probably sounds pathetic, but I plan to reapply,” he said.
He said none of the phone calls have been from members of the Del Mar City Council. “The line must have been busy when they were trying to call,” he joked.
In a deal made with the previous administration, Del Mar is proposing to buy the state-owned facility for $120 million. A bill authorizing the sale has been put on hold until next year.
The 400-acre site makes up 20 percent of Del Mar, which is seeking ownership to ensure local control and reimbursement for public services it provides. The fair board claims city ownership will bankrupt the fairgrounds.
During his tenure, Nussbaum said he helped the facility become accessible to more people and events by replacing aging barns with multipurpose facilities and installing a roof over the horse arena.
He was also a key player in developing an expansion plan that includes increased parking, new administration offices and exhibit halls with rooftop sports fields and a permanent train platform. The board certified the environmental impact report for that project in April despite opposition from Del Mar, adjacent Solana Beach and myriad area residents and organizations.
Del Mar, Solana Beach and the San Dieguito River Valley Joint Powers Authority have taken legal steps to challenge the EIR.
Adam Day will replace Nussbaum as president. The board can still function because only six members are required for a quorum, but in four of the last five meetings, at least two board members have been absent.