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Staff are studying the potential of both the fairgrounds proper and horse park – a 65-acre equestrian facility off of El Camino Real. File photo
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Area residents resist temporary homeless shelter at fairgrounds

DEL MAR – After dozens – if not hundreds – of local residents protested against a concept to bring temporary homeless housing to the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the 22nd District Agricultural Association is hoping to make one thing clear: the fairgrounds is not breaking ground on any such project, anytime soon.

Carlene Moore, the fairground’s deputy manager, told The Coast News that fairgrounds staff are not evaluating any specific agency proposals related to housing for the homeless at this point.

“What we are looking at is really the issue of temporary and homeless housing, and whether or not that is a fit for the fairgrounds and the community,” she said.

Moore said the 22nd DAA – the fairground’s operating entity – has been considering options for housing the region’s homeless population since Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order regarding the state’s homelessness crisis in January.

The order required the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture to “conduct an initial assessment of fairgrounds in or near jurisdictions where a shelter crisis is currently in effect…”

Moore said the fairgrounds initially struggled with the order, due to the number of large events that usually take place at the 340-acre, state-owned property.

But with the grounds now essentially empty into the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, temporary housing for the homeless has become a more feasible option. Such a plan might allow the fairgrounds to pull in some revenue from a land lease, as the self-funded 22nd DAA faces an approximately 90% loss in revenue this year.

The fairgrounds would not be operating the site but renting the property to an agency specializing in coordinating homeless housing facilities. Staff are studying the potential of both the fairgrounds proper and horse park – a 65-acre equestrian facility off of El Camino Real.

Moore said staff and the 22nd DAA Board have been studying whether the fairgrounds could service a site similar to what the San Diego Convention Center is offering now. Since April, the downtown facility has been home to about 1,300 homeless individuals.

At about the same time staff began to assess this possibility, the 22nd DAA received a project outline from Los Angeles company Fixx Solutions, proposing a temporary, modular housing concept for area homeless.

The Fixx Solution plan, titled “Victory Lodge Homeless Proposal,” would install “bungalow” housing units on-site, along with kitchen facilities and recreation rooms. The four-page outline lists site amenities, as well as security and janitorial services that would be provided.

The 22nd DAA received a project outline from Los Angeles company Fixx Solutions, proposing a temporary, modular housing concept for area homeless, but did not specifically name the Del Mar Fairgrounds. File photo

The plan provides various options for the size of the site, from a capacity of 80 people to as many as 1,500 people. It specifies that 1 acre is needed for 80 units, and includes options for up to 15 acres.

The plan does not specifically reference the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Fixx Solutions – which formed in early 2020 — proposed a similar project in Oreville in March that was “shot down” because the city officials “weren’t sure who was behind the project.”

At the 22nd DAA’s July 14 meeting, area residents from Del Mar, Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe expressed strong opposition toward the proposal, pleading with the fairgrounds to eschew the plan. Many were particularly worried about quotes cited by the local media, in which Board Director Don Mosier said there had been “quite a bit of progress on the Fixx proposal.”

Hundreds wrote in emails and over twenty called in for public comment – all opposed to Fixx Solution’s proposal, and many to the idea of homeless housing at the fairgrounds, period.

“This is not good for Del Mar, and this is not good for the homeless,” said Del Mar resident Lucia Simpson.

Active Del Mar resident Dan Quirk launched a petition to oppose the proposal. The petition has garnered over 1,500 signatures.

“This idea is so ill-conceived that it will not get better with additional study or analysis,” Quirk said during the virtual meeting.

But according to Moore, the Fixx Solutions’ proposal and the fairgrounds’ assessment of homeless housing are “two separate issues.”

“We’re not assessing that proposal,” said Moore. “And we wouldn’t unless we were issuing a (request for proposals). Then we would be looking at all proposals submitted in response to that.”

Issuing a request for proposals is common practice for any government project. Moore said such a solicitation would be followed by a request for quote process – which would solicit bids from qualified companies.

Local officials remain skeptical of any plan for temporary homeless housing at the fairgrounds.

According to Solana Beach Mayor Jewel Edson, city officials and staff from Del Mar and Solana Beach were first informed of the concept during a May meeting of the community relations committee, a group of 22nd DAA Board members and local officials that meets monthly to discuss issues related to the fairgrounds.

The idea was initially posed as a pilot project to temporarily house 100 or more homeless veterans, but Edson said the committee has not been presented with a “clear concept” of such a project.

The city of Solana Beach sent in a letter to the 22nd DAA before the July board meeting to urge consideration of the impacts on surrounding cities, and the need to address factors such as the lack of nearby social services or public transit routes, or how such a site in an area prone to flooding might impact the nearby wetlands. Comments submitted by area residents reflected similar concerns.

It also clarifies that such temporary housing measures would “not appear to” help either Solana Beach or Del Mar meet state-mandated affordable housing requirements.

Del Mar Councilman Dwight Worden, who also sits on the fairgrounds’ community relations committee, said Del Mar is more focused on permanent housing solutions at the fairgrounds that would comply with said requirements – a longstanding topic of discussion between the 22nd DAA Board and Del Mar city officials.

Although the grounds are state-owned, because the property falls within Del Mar’s city limits, affordable housing built on its grounds would allow the city to meet its housing mandates. According to Worden, the property – which takes up about a third of the city – presents several opportunities for such housing.

“We would not want a temporary homeless housing proposal to preempt the long-term opportunity (for permanent housing),” said Worden.

At the meeting, fairground’s staff and board members asserted that any plans for homeless housing at the fairgrounds are still pending.

“We would not be saying that this project is moving forward,” said Board President Richard Valdez “We are only at the information-gathering phase. And I think there’s an important distinction between the two and we want to make sure everyone is aware of where we are in the process.”

Moore said staff will be making a recommendation to the board in August about whether to pursue the concept further.

Board Director Kathlyn Mead, who is chairing an ad-hoc committee on the concept along with Director Lisa Barkett, said the option is just one of many the board is considering to bring in revenue.

In late April, the 22nd DAA sent a letter to the state, imploring the governor to approve $20 million in emergency funding for the fairgrounds. The fairgrounds was forced to cancel the 2020 San Diego County Fair, their primary revenue stream, in light of the pandemic. Horse racing has continued without visitors – but the track is facing challenges, as several jockeys and track workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

The agency has decided to proceed with laying off 60% of their staff – a months-long process.

According to Moore, the state’s budget has set aside $40.3 in funding for the state’s agricultural districts, funding that is specifically going toward the layoff process. Such funds will cover expenses like benefits and retirement for employees losing their jobs. Moore estimated the 22nd DAA will be receiving about $6-7 million of this funding. But at this time, no funding has been allocated for general operating expenses.