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Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
July 5, 2001


About a month ago the 22nd District Agricultural Association made it quite clear they were planning to ride roughshod on the San Dieguito River watershed. Using million dollar racehorses as cover, the fair board is planning to expand their operations year round, but to do so they need to develop more of the river valley. This, ladies and gentlemen, is not a good thing.

The fair grounds are a public space, paid for by the people of California; they were never designed to function as a profit making private enterprise. Yet here in the land of sprawl and crawl the fair board has a terminal case of vision of grandeur dancing though their heads. Completely unwilling to make due with a good thing, the individuals who make up the fair board do little more than plot the further destruction of the river valley.

A couple of years ago they were talking about a shopping center next to the freeway, in fact they are still talking about it. They are also talking about a hotel, and an expanded horse racing facility. Also a part of the ongoing conversation are improved showrooms to accommodate an extended slate of trade shows. Far from their agricultural beginnings the fair grounds is evolving into a full service commercial endeavor, by non-elected officials, and without a public vote.

Of the special interests lobbing for full tilt development of the fairgrounds and an offsite horse training facility, the most pernicious are the thorough bred owners who see Del Mar as their personal Shangri-La. It's not surprising the people with no problem exploiting horses have absolutely no issue with destroying fragile wetland to make that exploitation all the more profitable. After sitting through one meeting it was quite evident who was calling the shots.

Expanding the race facilities on its current site is not possible considering all the other uses the 22nd Agricultural District has in mind for the site. So to maximize profits the horse owners are asking for the state to build them a training facility for 700 animals smack dab in the middle of the San Dieguito river flood plain. The most popular justification for the multi-million dollar expansion has been the welfare of the animals utilized by the racing industry. According to expansion proponents, alleviating overcrowding at the current sight takes precedent over environmental considerations.

Another justification being touted as scripture is the economic benefit of complete commercial saturation of the fair grounds. Using the "Greed is good." Mantra, Supervisor Bill Horn is marshaling his troops in support of horse-racing and it's continued monopolization of the San Dieguito river valley. Because of Fair Board's blind commitment to unrelenting growth little consideration is given to environmental sustainability by those who most profit from business as usual.

As the San Diego County Fair grounds expansion battle takes shape it is clear the forces of greed will not have an easy go of it. The California Coastal Commission staff is recommending against further degradation of the wetlands surrounding the fair grounds. The City of Del Mar is also opposed to the 22nd Agricultural District expansion plans, as are the Lagoon Greens of coastal North County.

Thinning the line between public amenities and private interests is a direct threat to quality of life associated with the region, as is ignoring environmental considerations in favor of economic ones. It's time to remind the fair board who it is they actually represent.

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