The Coast News Group
Donna Ruhm is honored for 25 years of service to the Del Mar Fairgrounds by board Vice President David Watson, left, and General Manager Tim Fennell. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
Donna Ruhm is honored for 25 years of service to the Del Mar Fairgrounds by board Vice President David Watson, left, and General Manager Tim Fennell. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
Old - DO NOT USE - The Coast NewsRancho Santa Fe

Board honors employee, supports train stop and mini-satellite wagering site

DEL MAR — Employee recognition, support for a seasonal train platform, a traffic study update and approval of mini-satellite wagering were addressed at the Feb. 11 meeting of the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors.

Donna Ruhm was honored for 25 years of service to the Del Mar Fairgrounds. She was hired in January 1989 as assistant to the concessions manager to learn the fair’s midway operations.

She was promoted to business assistant in 1991 and managed the Holiday Fair, a three-day event that attracted 20,000 attendees. She was also interim events manager, responsible for booking returning events and developing new ones.

Ruhm was named concessions manager and then chief of exposition events. She helps develop promotions and programs for the fairgrounds, including food concessions, merchandise, commercial space and carnival rides and games, areas that grossed more than $25 million last year.

“We have a lot to be proud of,” Ruhm said. “We treat all of our partners with respect, which makes us different from other fairs. We have heart.”

She said her immediate staff, as well as senior management, make it a pleasure to work at the fairgrounds. “And nobody takes anybody too seriously,” she added.

Ruhm said one of her most memorable moments in 25 years is a $12,000 bungee jump. Not a fan of those types of attractions, she said she did it for a fundraiser, which raised $6,000 in a few hours.

A donor offered to match that amount, making it “a $12,000 jump I will never forget,” she said.

Directors also approved a letter that will be sent to the San Diego Association of Governments stating 22nd DAA support for the San Dieguito double track and special events platform project that will add a track and station west of the fairgrounds.

The letter, signed by board President Fred Schenk, notes the platform will give visitors a more convenient, direct and environmentally friendly transportation option for events at the state-owned facility.

It is also a key mobility project in the fairgrounds master plan.

It will help improve traffic, especially since the 22nd DAA recently agreed to phase out one of its parking lots, resulting in a loss of 1,250 spaces.

“We recognize that patrons would welcome utilizing transit as an alternative,” the letter states. “We applaud SANDAG and (North County Transit District’s) efforts to … provide a safe and reliable transit option, while reducing traffic congestion, vehicular greenhouse gas emissions, and help to meet the regional goals of enhancing transit service for the county.”

In another traffic-related issue, directors approved hiring a consultant to begin one of two required studies. David Watson said the first study will provide a snapshot of existing conditions, as well as determine the financial and practical feasibility of proposed parking structures in the expansion plans.

The studies were ordered by the California Coastal Commission and must be completed in 10 years. They are part of consent orders the 22nd DAA agreed to as mitigation for past unauthorized uses on lots east and south of the fairgrounds.

Directors also approved an agreement to allow a mini-satellite wagering site at 100 Harbor Drive in San Diego for five years, with an additional five-year renewal option.

In an effort to widen the distribution of the horseracing signal at brick-and-mortar sites, in 2007 the state approved the development of 45 mini-satellites, which are regulated and licensed by the California Horse Racing Board.

If a potential restaurant or sports bar is within a 20-mile radius of an existing racetrack — which in this case is the Del Mar Fairgrounds — the applicant must be granted a waiver from the facility.

In exchange for the waiver, the 22nd DAA will receive a percentage of the parimutuel commission that could amount to about $70,000 annually. Pending approval from the CHRB and city of San Diego, the facility could open this summer.