DEL MAR — Pulling back into the Surf & Turf RV Park on Wednesday, Nicole Focone felt an enormous sense of relief and contentment. After several months of not knowing whether she’d be able to continue renting at the park she calls home, breathing in the fresh Del Mar air felt like a gift.
“I’m getting settled in. It’s just a good feeling. I’m happy for myself and for everyone else,” she said.
For the past two decades, a small group of around 20 long-term occupants has rented spaces at the park from mid-September to mid-May, exiting for four months each summer to make room for the San Diego County Fair and horse race attendees and renting at other parks in the meantime.
This past May, however, Focone and other residents left the park in a state of uncertainty after the park’s operator announced that they would be stepping away and that stays longer than 21 days would be prohibited going forward.
Following persistent advocacy by residents over email and during Fairgrounds board meetings, the Fairgrounds announced earlier this month that long-term leases would be allowed again.
While the news came later than some residents would have liked — around one week before the park was set to reopen — it was still a win.
“When we did get the news, I can’t describe it; it was just a relief,” said Focone, who has lived at the park for one year. “We put our best foot out there and somebody listened. I guess our prayers were answered.”
The Del Mar Golf Center, which has operated the park for the past 20 years, informed the Fairgrounds in the spring that they would cease management at the end of 2023. This left the Fairgrounds facing the decision of whether to find another operator or manage the park themselves.
All stays at the park were limited to 21 days per calendar year in the meantime, causing panic for residents, some of whom have lived there for nearly 20 years.
For many, the park provides their only means to live affordably in Del Mar due to its lower per-space costs than other RV parks. Monthly rent is around $900 compared to around $2,000 elsewhere, residents said.
At their Sept. 12 meeting, the 22nd District Agricultural Association — the state board managing the Fairgrounds — also announced that they would start operating the park in-house come Jan. 1 and take over the long-term leases from Del Mar Golf Center.
“We plan to honor those agreements through May of 2024, so that should be a smooth transition for any of those occupants come January when we take over those operations,” said Carlene Moore, CEO of the 22nd DAA.
Over the coming months, Moore said the Fairgrounds will establish policies for their management of the park as well as hire new staff and research new reservation software. A draft operating plan should go before the board in December.
While they will no longer operate Surf & Turf, Del Mar Golf Center will continue managing the driving range and mini golf properties also owned by the Fairgrounds.