DEL MAR — In addition to breaking records in everything from attendance to the number of deep-fried frog legs sold, the 2011 San Diego County Fair was, to some, the healthiest, most family-friendly experience in a long time thanks to stepped-up efforts to reduce smoking during the annual event.
But as happy as folks are with the decrease in tobacco use at the fair, they are equally upset by the number of people smoking cigarettes and marijuana during the concerts following the horse races.
It’s known as “the place to come to blaze out,” Carlsbad resident Janice Asaro said, referencing a YouTube video she saw posted after one of the concerts.
“It diminishes the reputation of horse racing,” Asaro told the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors during the Aug. 9 meeting. “Instead of the sport of kings it’s become known as the sport of dopers.”
Another speaker said she was bothered by the apparent lack of enforcement. And Judi Strang, executive director of the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth, shared an article about the racing season in NUG, a cannabis magazine.
The story doesn’t mention anything about smoking marijuana at the track. In fact, it highlights all the activities — from food and concerts to children’s entertainment — and describes the facility as “the place to be” during the race season.
But being mentioned in a publication geared toward cannabis users prompted board member Ruben Barrales to question the belief that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
“It doesn’t send a good message,” director Russ Penniman said.
The Seaside Stage is a nonsmoking venue. On Friday concerts, parent or legal guardian must accompany concertgoers 18 and younger. Patrons must be 18 or older to attend the Saturday and Sunday shows.
President Adam Day told speakers they “have our commitment to make it better.”
Joe Harper, president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said efforts to stop smoking at the concerts have been increased.
“Security’s been very active,” he said, noting that arrests are down to an average of one per concert. “It hasn’t been a major problem but we’re continuing to work on it.”
Harper said he has also been taking steps to address another concert complaint. Despite knowing it would “impact our neighbors on the beach,” the stage was relocated this year to the west side of the facility for safety reasons, he said.
The noise, especially during the July 30 Ziggy Marley concert, was a big concern, Harper said. Since then the sound level has been turned down and the speakers were redirected.
“If there are other measures we can take, we’ll do them,” he said. “We don’t want to be a bad neighbor.”
Tom Quigley, owner of The HorsePlayer Magazine, was dining at the Del Mar Plaza during one of the concerts. He said combined with the train, fighter jets and construction, the concert noise “wasn’t overwhelming.”
Director Kim Fletcher agreed. “As a perennial complainer about the noise, it was much, much better,” he said.
And they’re off
In other horse racing news, Harper said 46,588 people were on hand July 20, the highest opening-day attendance since the track opened in 1937.
He said the on-track handle is up 9 percent, as is daily attendance. Food and beverage sales also set a record at $1.5 million.
Although the total handle is down about 3 percent, “We’re still bucking the national trend,” Harper said. “And we have the highest purses in the country.”
In other 22nd DAA news, the board tentatively set the 2012 fair to run June 8 through July 4. If the event remains dark the first three Mondays, as it traditionally does, that would result in a 24-day event.
“Attendance indicates it’s time to expand,” Tim Fennell, general manager, said. A longer fair would spread out attendance, add jobs and help reduce traffic, he said.
Fennell is still studying whether that is a viable option.
Board members also received a summary of changes made at the April meeting during which they adopted a master plan for a proposed expansion at the fairgrounds that includes new exhibit halls, lighted rooftop sports fields, parking structures, administrative offices and a 60,000-square-foot health club.
“The hotel has been eliminated and will stay eliminated,” Fletcher said. Other changes include adding a 100-foot greenway south of the facility and a commitment to hold design workshops to garner public input for the new buildings.
With the 22nd DAA contract with Premier Food Services expiring later this year, about 20 members of Unite Here, the local hotel and hospitality workers union, asked board members to consider adopting a worker retention agreement to ensure future employment at the fairgrounds if a new food contractor is selected.
Day said he appreciated the workers and encouraged them to “stay engaged.”
“You will find a responsive board,” he said. “You’re doing a great job.”
Fennell said the workers were the site’s greatest resource. “You’re part of our team 100 percent,” he said. “I have the highest respect for you folks.
“You have my personal guarantee that you should not be worried,” Fennell said.
The Aug. 9 meeting began with board members unanimously electing Day and Michael Alpert president and vice president, respectively.
Barry Nussbaum, the previous president, Kelly Burt and Vivian Hardage learned in June that Gov. Jerry Brown was not reappointing them to their board positions. Replacements have not yet been named.
Hardage was recognized at the meeting for her six years on the board. “It’s been my pleasure and honor to serve,” she said.
Nussbaum and Bart were unable to attend the meeting but will be recognized at a later date, according to Linda Zweig, media relations director.