Fair Board Agrees to Negotiate with City of Del Mar on an Affordable Housing Site

Fair Board approves an Exclusive Negotiating Rights Agreement for affordable housing: On Tuesday afternoon, the Fairgrounds’ governing body, the 22nd District Agricultural Association Board, voted unanimously to approve an Agreement establishing a two-year process to negotiate with the City of Del Mar for the development of affordable housing on Fairgrounds property. The City Council is expected to consider approval of the Agreement soon: the draft Agreement recites an effective date of April 15, 2024.

22nd DAA Board, with CEO Carlene Moore (center), at its Feb. 20, 2024 meeting; some directors participated remotely by videoconference. Photo: Betty Wheeler

The end goal is a ground lease that would allow the City to undertake an “Affordable Development” on Fairgrounds property, which the Agreement says “is expected to include at least sixty-one (61) units of affordable housing together with common areas.” 


The “Exclusive Negotiating Rights Agreement’ approved by the 22nd DAA Board establishes a two-year process for negotiating with the City of Del Mar for a specific site for the affordable housing development. The first significant milestone is a December 31, 2024 deadline for the 22nd DAA to provide the City with prospective development sites. The City then has a 12 month due diligence period to determine whether a prospective development site is suitable for the Affordable Development. During that time, the City would prepare a conceptual development program, undertake a feasibility analysis, and conduct a physical adequacy determination. Then, no later than 14 months from the identification by the 22nd DAA of the prospective development sites, the City and the 22nd DAA would mutually agree upon the final development site. By the end of the negotiating period (April 15, 2026, unless extended), the parties would be in a position to negotiate a ground lease for the development. However, if the City delivers an “unsuitability notice” as to the prospective development site(s), the Agreement is terminated.


The Board’s discussion emphasized that this was an agreement to negotiate, and not a commitment by the 22nd DAA to provide a Development Site.  In introducing the proposed agreement, Director Kathyln Mead, Chair of the Board’s Affordable Housing Ad-Hoc Committee, said, “We want you to feel very comfortable [that] this is a negotiation,” noting that any proposal would come back to the Board for a vote. Director Lisa Barkett said, “I just feel like we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Why aren’t we identifying the site first, and then negotiating about that site?” Mead responded, “That’s why we gave Carlene [22nd DAA CEO Carlene Moore] the ability to determine whether we can identify a site that will be appropriate, before we go any further.” Barkett then asked, “If we determine that there is no site that is appropriate, then it dies at that point?” Board President Frederick Schenk replied, “We have not committed [a site] to the City of Del Mar.”


The Agreement itself underscores this point, stating “This Agreement shall not obligate either the District or the City to enter into a Lease Agreement for the Affordable Development…”


After extensive discussion, the Board voted unanimously to approve the Agreement.


The Board then immediately turned its attention to adoption of a Resolution on a rail realignment through the Fairgrounds, making it clear that a potential affordable housing site for the City of Del Mar may be derailed if a plan moves forward “to run train tracks through or across District property.” 


The motion to adopt the resolution passed by unanimous vote, with an amendment to a reference in the resolution to SANDAG’s “plans to realign the Los Angeles-San Diego (LOSSAN) rail corridor.” That language was amended to say “plans for the necessary realignment” of the rail corridor.


The Resolution concludes as follows: 1) that the 22nd DAA “is firmly opposed to any LOSSAN corridor realignment that impacts operational, economic, environmental, and planning needs at the Del Mar Fairgrounds,” 2) that the 22nd DAA’s “top public transportation priority is the swift construction of a seasonal rail platform that will reduce vehicular traffic during major events at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, thereby improving local air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” and 3) that the 22nd DAA’s “property may be unable to serve as an affordable housing site for the City of Del Mar should a plan move forward to run train tracks through or across District property.”


At nearly the same time that the 22nd DAA Board was acting to approve the Agreement and pass the Resolution, the Del Mar City Council was also in session, hearing strongly-worded comments from a large number of residents, many speaking in support of a Fairgrounds alignment, which proponents variously referred to as the “Solana Park option” or “the environmental option.” These nearly simultaneous public sessions only served to underscore the difficulty the City will have in navigating these two complex and urgent issues: relocating the tracks off the bluffs, and meeting our affordable housing obligations.