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Ag board considers smoke-free fair

DEL MAR — A smoke-free fair in two years, a possible collaboration with Del Mar to help that city meet its affordable housing requirements and the terms of a settlement agreement were discussed at the April 10 meeting of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the Del Mar Fairgrounds.Fairgoers, other residents and representatives from organizations such as the American Lung Association and San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth have for years regularly attended monthly board meetings, presenting facts about the harmful effects of smoking and asking directors to ban the unhealthy habit at approximately 340-acre site.

The 22nd DAA formed a committee to address the requests, and at an April 9 meeting fairgrounds Chief Executive Officer Tim Fennell told members his goal is a completely smoke-free facility by 2014.

The plan prohibits minors in beer gardens where smoking is allowed and gradually decreases the number of designated smoking areas each year. During the 2011 fair, they were reduced from six to five, however, there are currently five slated for the 2012 event.

“We have no responsibility to enable or accommodate smokers with designated areas,” said Judi Strang, executive director for San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth.

According to the California Department of Public Health, about 12 percent of adults in the state are smokers.

“Do we appease the 13 percent or support the other 87 percent?” committee member Tom Hetherington asked.

Fennell said employees present the greatest challenge to an immediate sweeping ban on smoking. In fact, two of the designated smoking areas are nonpublic for vendors and other fair workers, he said.

“If you can’t control the employees, how do we control the public?” Hetherington asked.

“I don’t understand why employees are a problem,” board member David Watson said, noting that smoking isn’t allowed by anyone, including employees, at Balboa Park.

Fennell said there are more than 1,000 subcontractors and vendors who work at the fair, and it’s not an eight-hour day. Some work 15 to 16 hours, while others live onsite. A high percentage of the satellite wagers are also smokers, Fennell said.

“There are ramifications if we stop altogether,” he said.

Board President Adam Day said there will be a more complete discussion about smoking at the fairgrounds during the May 8 meeting.

Collaboration with Del Mar

In other news, Watson said Del Mar officials asked him during the April 10 Community Relations Committee, made up of representatives from that city, Solana Beach and the fairgrounds, if the 22nd DAA would help Del Mar meet its affordable housing requirements.

All California cities must have a certified housing element, determined in part by the number of its employees, or they lose the ability to receive grants. Del Mar, like many cities, currently does not have one.

The largest employer in the county’s smallest city, the fairgrounds has temporary housing units onsite that are used by jockeys and other seasonal workers.

“They are occupied more than you think,” Watson said. “They are used for more than just the racing season.”

Del Mar officials are researching whether those units would satisfy part of a state mandate to provide affordable housing.

“We are just starting to work together to see if we can get credit for that temporary housing,” City Manager Scott Huth said.

“It’s our responsibility to generate the housing and develop a plan that shows how we plan to meet the requirement, but we’re asking (the 22nd DAA) to work with us to see if there are opportunities on their property since they help drive the requirement,” he said.

“In the spirit of cooperation,” Watson said, he agreed to “look into it.”

“We don’t have to do anything,” he said. “We don’t know for sure if it would even qualify.”

Mayor Carl Hilliard said he and Fennell discussed a similar proposal about five years ago. He said existing housing on the fairgrounds wouldn’t qualify because it is unsuitable and temporary.

“The existing units are deplorable,” he said. “It’s like a third-world country back there. It’s substandard, and you have to have year-round housing to meet the state requirement.”

Lawsuit settlement

Responding to a request for an update on a settlement agreement announced more than two months ago between the 22nd DAA and Solana Beach, Del Mar and the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority, Watson said he was “not comfortable at all discussing anything in public right now.”

The terms of the settlement haven’t been made public and no one has seen the draft. “I don’t know if it reflects what we agreed to” he said.

The three agencies teamed up to file lawsuits after the 22nd DAA board certified an environmental impact report in April 2011 for expansion plans at the state-owned facility. Only three directors who approved the EIR remain on the board.

Plans call for several improvements to the site, including new exhibit halls, a parking structure with rooftop athletic fields, administrative offices and a seasonal train platform.

Del Mar and Solana Beach officials say the EIR does not adequately address many issues, including traffic, noise and lighting impacts, and the 22nd DAA did not seek sufficient input from either city, as it was required to do.

The Sierra Club has also filed a lawsuit against the 22nd DAA.