Betty Wheeler | Seaview Ave.
With a steady stream of event cancellations, most notably the County Fair, which generates $12 million in net profit, the 22nd District Agricultural District (22nd DAA) is in financial crisis. The 22nd DAA operates the state-owned Fairgrounds on a self-funded basis, but its revenue has taken a huge hit from the pandemic. On April 27, it requested $20 million in critical emergency funding from the State. The request to the State noted that, with “less than $5 million cash in the bank,” the 22nd DAA “will no longer be able to pay its operating expenses or its State civil service employees after May 31st without this critical emergency assistance.”
The State has since announced a $40 million fund to be distributed to the many fairgrounds in California, but as of press time, the amount for the 22nd DAA, which operates the largest fair in the state, is unknown. Although the 22nd DAA reduced its temporary and seasonal workforce in response to the COVID-19 crisis, it still has 156 full-time civil service employees, at an average monthly cost of $1.68 million. It also has $74.3 million in debt, including for water quality improvements and renovation of the satellite wagering facility into a concert venue. The request mentions restricted funds and “reserves” without detail, other than describing the reserves as “devastated.”
Some 90% of the 22nd DAA’s $87 million in annual revenue comes from events, including horse racing, festivals, and trade and consumer shows, in addition to the Fair. When and under what conditions these types of events and mass gatherings can resume is still unknown. While Santa Anita Park resumed horse racing on May 15, with no public in attendance, plans for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (DMTC) are not yet announced, nor is it clear how racing without public attendance would impact the budgets of DMTC or the 22nd DAA.
In the meantime, the 22nd DAA is exploring a proposal to provide temporary and transitional living space, along with medical screening and meals, for homeless persons and families, including veterans. Without kitchens in the individual units, and because of the temporary nature of housing, these would likely not count toward Del Mar’s state-mandated housing numbers, but with a proposal for an 80-1500 person site, this proposal could nonetheless bring valuable housing and related services to Del Mar. In addition, 22nd DAA and City of Del Mar representatives continue to discuss affordable housing opportunities.