The Coast News Group
Permits to use this property, referred to as the east overflow lot, for parking and other events at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, expire in seven years. If they are not renewed by the California Coastal Commission, the result will be a net loss of 3,265 parking spaces in 10 years. The agency that governs the fairgrounds formed a committee to address current and future parking needs. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Fair board working to solve parking issues

DEL MAR — With the potential total loss of about 3,135 parking spaces between 2013 and 2023, the 22nd District Agricultural Association recently formed an ad hoc committee to focus on current and future parking issues.

The easiest short-term option is to convert some space at Del Mar Horsepark since the 22nd DAA, which governs the fairgrounds, already owns the 650-acre property and, in fact, bought it in 1994 to accommodate overflow parking during the fair and horse races.

A recent financial report indicates horse shows at the equestrian facility are profitable but it loses money on boarding, which has an average annual vacancy rate of 30 percent.

Costly capital improvements are also needed.

“Is that the highest and best use of that property?” Russ Penniman, fair board president and chairman of the ad hoc committee, asked.

Since November 2013 the fairgrounds has lost about 1,735 parking spaces, mostly to comply with consent orders that resulted from a lawsuit filed by Del Mar, Solana Beach and the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority over a fairgrounds expansion plan.

The record-breaking 2016 fair for the first time was without about 1,250 spaces in a southern parcel across Jimmy Durante Boulevard which is being converted back to wetlands.

The state-owned fairgrounds currently has approximately 11,870 onsite spaces. Of those, however, only 8,331 are available for public parking during the fair.

The rest are used by vendors, exhibitors, carnival workers and entertainers.

The facility has an inventory of another 4,750 spaces offsite, including 3,000 at Horsepark and 1,750 at Torrey Pines High School and MiraCosta College.

But most of the parking spots at Del Mar Horsepark are used by employees and the school lots can only be used when classes are not in session.

Fairgrounds officials offered to pay $75,000 to use the polo fields across from Horsepark but a deed restriction prohibits that use.

Zoning for another parcel to the north known as the Milan Group Property also doesn’t allow parking.

The permit for the east overflow lot, where pumpkin and Christmas tree sales take place, expires in 2023. New permits must then be issued by the California Coastal Commission to continue those activities and parking.

With the permits an additional 1,400 spaces will be lost

Qualcomm Stadium has been considered. And while it may be a short-term fix, “that’s just not practical,” Penniman said.

More than 288,200 of the 1.6 million fair visitors, or approximately 18 percent, were transported to this year’s event from off-site lots, with total onsite parking down by about 6,100 cars.

A reduction in the availability of onsite parking results in a likely decrease in attendance and lost revenue, according to a report presented at the Aug. 9 22nd DAA board meeting.

Penniman and Steve Shewmaker, who also serves on the ad hoc, have concluded that additional nearby offsite lots should be acquired.

Plans include improving and increasing public transit options.

Penniman said there is also an ongoing “major work-through” to better accommodate ride-hailing options such as Uber and Lyft.

“That’s going to be one of the solutions to our problem,” he said.

As the ad hoc committee considers all options, the most likely scenario seems to be better use of Horsepark, where at least some boarding will continue, according to Penniman.

“We want to maximize onsite parking for our patrons,” he said. “We have to look at everything we own and that includes Horsepark.”