Betty Wheeler | Seaview Avenue
Ed note: Fair board member and Sandpiper editor Don Mosier was not involved in writing this article.
With the 2020 San Diego County Fair canceled (or “postponed to 2021,” as the April 14 press release put it), and the 2020 racing season very much in the air because of COVID-19 concerns, there have been broad hints of turmoil at the 22nd Agricultural District Association (22nd DAA), which manages the state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Despite support from Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, Assemblymember Todd Gloria, and other political heavyweights, Governor Newsom recently declined to reappoint Board member (and former Del Mar Mayor) Lee Haydu to another term on the 22nd DAA Board. A short time later, long-time 22nd DAA Board Member David Watson, originally appointed by Gov. Brown in 2011, resigned “effective immediately,” by an unusually candid April 15 letter to Governor Newsom that spelled out his dissent from the direction of the current Board and management team. Noting that the 22nd DAA “is facing a time of great difficulty and uncertainty” not only because of COVID-19, but because of the “extreme financial turmoil because of historical reliance on horse racing revenues,” Watson stated, “In the past, I would have said former leaders of the board were up to the task of navigating these treacherous times. I do not believe that is true today.” He concluded, “The current board majority seems content with the status quo leadership and management team, which I do not believe will be sufficient to meet this moment. As a result, it is time for me to move on and leave the task to someone else.”
Watson cited his role in resolving longstanding environmental compliance issues as among his greatest professional accomplishments. He worked with the Coastal Commission, the Cities, the JPA, and more, including on the wetlands restoration of the fairgrounds’ south overflow parking lot. Some of these environmental problems dated as far back as the 1990s.
These Board departures raise significant questions for Del Mar, since Haydu and Watson were the Board members on the Community Relations Committee that works on issues of mutual concern with the cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach. (Watson served in that role for years, and was recently replaced on that Committee by Don Mosier.)
Affordable housing, environmental stewardship of fairgrounds property, and traffic and other impacts from the Fair, racing season, and concerts, are just some of the significant issues regularly addressed by the Committee. Watson and Haydu in particular are widely perceived as responsible for the significant improvement in relations between the cities and the 22nd DAA in recent years. With their departure, it’s an open question whether former mayor Don Mosier, now the only board member with a strong Del Mar connection, can keep that improved relationship in place, or whether it will trend back toward the more negative model of past decades.