March 2011 home page

  Does “No" mean "No”?
Jeff Weitzen | 23rd Street


As reported this week, Governor Brown announced “this is not the best time to be selling real estate” and there is “time to consider what we ought to do with” the Del Mar and Orange County Fairgrounds. Failure to gain regional control of the Del Mar Fairgrounds is not an outcome we should accept. We have at least two options to consider.

Make A Better Articulated Case:
Option One follows the old adage “selling begins when the customer says no” and requires we sharpen our arguments. First, we must separate ourselves from the sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds. We support a vibrant and profitable horse racing season, they do not. The OC Fairgrounds sale allows development to occur and its valuation is boosted by its development opportunity. Our Fairgrounds are being saved from convention center development and rededicated to the public needs they’ve historically met. Del Mar’s value is tied to how the land is used and is marginally altered as the economy improves. Waiting for a real estate recovery will have no impact. On closer inspection, the two properties are “apples and oranges .”
Selling requires us to present a superior vision for the future. We’re creating a public-private partnership that grows horse racing through facility improvements and long term security for horse owners. We’ll protect the land through effective zoning and use laws, outstanding environmental stewardship and our shared commitment to the San Dieguito River Valley restoration. We’ll insure good governance through regional representation that is accountable to our local communities. And we’ll do all of this with a solid financial plan.

We must provide details of the public private partnership, the trackside improvements, the 55 year leasing arrangement and the Horsemen’s vision of the future with stability and an ownership stake. We must demonstrate that implementing the Public Trust Indenture model presented to the City Council and Del Mar zoning adequately protects the property from intensive development. Finally, we must describe how a regionally appointed Board with the right set of experiences and term limits is superior to the currently accumulated and inexperienced political appointees who have lost their way.

When we set out to differentiate ourselves and our vision and raise our voices, we may find that “no” becomes “yes .”

Plan B: Fixing Governance With State Ownership:
Option Two proposes we get the Fairgrounds on the right track under continued state ownership. With the right people and governance model, we can achieve our vision without a change in ownership. Governor Brown and the legislature can take a different set of steps and allow the region to create a professional Fair Board, locally appointed with the right backgrounds; an accountable and responsive Board with term limits. They can create a Public Trust Indenture and allow Del Mar to effectively zone the property. And they can embrace our public private relationship with the racing community. All of this without the complications and costs of ownership transfer. It may not be the degree of control the region wants, but may be achievable in the current environment with less financial risk. If this were in place today, we might not be talking about buying the Fairgrounds. One might even argue that Plan B should be Plan A.

There are options. The option of doing nothing and allowing the Fairgrounds to be run business as usual is not one of them.




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