March 2012 home page

Fair Board Faces the Music
Dwight Worden | Seaview Avenue


Circus Vargas on the East Overflow Lot (EOL) March 7, 2009.
Photo Dawn Rawls


The Fair Board voted 5-0 to approve “Cease and Desist Orders” with the Coastal Commission.

This is a big deal. Decades of alleged violations of the Coastal Act ranging from construction without permits, to illegal fill of wetlands, to unauthorized events and activities led the Coastal Commission’s then-executive director Peter Douglas to describe the Fair Board in June 2011 as “an arrogant agency above the law.” Under the Orders things are about to change dramatically.

The Orders spell out, in detail and with clear time frames, a comprehensive approach to bringing the District into compliance with the law, with corrections of existing violations and environmental restoration of key areas, including returning the south parking lot to wetlands and implementation of long-sought buffers. The Orders also require applications for comprehensive coastal permits for activities that have been conducted without permits in the past.

At long last, as reflected in the Orders, the Coastal Commission has taken a comprehensive approach to bringing the Fair Board into compliance with the law. Equally important, for the first time, the Fair Board has fully admitted enumerated violations and has agreed to correct them. This is a hugely important change in the way the Fair Board does business. Did the Fair Board agree to the Orders because the Board truly wants to become a better steward and, from here forward, fully comply with the law? Or, given that the Coastal Commission had been pressing the Fair Board about its scofflaw history since last spring and had started formal enforcement proceedings against the Board in the fall of 2011, did the Fair Board agree to these Orders because it had a gun to its head? I hope it’s the former, but it will be the follow up actions, along with how the Board handles proposed new activities not covered by the Orders, that will disclose whether a new era of environmental consciousness has truly dawned at the Fair Board.

Whatever the Fair Board’s motivation, the changes called for in the Orders are important and dramatic. The Fair Board estimates that, overall, compliance with the Orders will cost $4.5 million.

Details include strict deadlines, restoration and monitoring standards and requirements, and $1000/day penalties per violation. The Orders itemize a list of admitted violations, and the Fair Board concedes the Coastal Commission’s jurisdiction and gives up the right to contest the factual and legal basis for the Orders and their enforcement.

This is powerful stuff. While it remains to be seen if the Fair Board will, in fact, fully comply, if they do not the Coastal Commission will have a very strong hand under these Orders to quickly enforce compliance.

The Orders are 28 pages long, plus exhibits, and chock full of important details and specifics beyond the scope of this brief article. The foregoing should, however, give you a feel for the scope and import of the Orders and how things will change.
Some important questions remain. Most importantly, the Orders make no mention of the Fair Board’s controversial Master Plan. Provisions in these Orders conflict with provisions of the Master Plan and leave the reader wondering whether the Orders require the Fair Board to amend the Master Plan to make it consistent. Perhaps the Fair Board’s announced settlement of the Master Plan litigation will address this issue, but settlement terms are not yet public.

Likewise, at the very same meeting that the Fair Board announced its endorsement of these Orders, it also had an agenda item for a budget appropriation for approximately $80,000 worth of permanent electrical improvements to serve a new temporary concert area, with no indication from the Fair Board whether it intends to apply for a coastal permit for this installation. So, further monitoring of how the Fair Board treats Coastal Act requirements outside the scope of the Orders is important.
Those who care about these issues should be prepared for the Coastal Commission’s consideration of the Orders at its meeting in Chula Vista on March 7th.

There are many folks in Del Mar who were key in documenting the Fair Board’s history of violations and who persistently advocated to the Coastal Commission that enforcement action was needed. Without their tireless work and input it is doubtful the Commission staff would have been able to achieve what is reflected in the Orders. This includes, among many others, Jacqueline Winterer, Dawn Rawls, Jan McMillan, Bill Michalsky, Freda Reid, and Ann Gardner. The Coastal Commission also deserves kudos for issuing the formal enforcement action notice that kicked off these negotiations, and for crafting a comprehensive and tightly written set of Orders. And, the new Fair Board should be commended for negotiating and approving the Orders, even as we hope that they will fully honor and implement them in spirit and to the letter. If they do, they will achieve more than just better environmental practices at the fairgrounds; they will take a huge step toward rebuilding their trust and relationships with the communities that surround them.

(A more detailed analyis of this order by Worden can be found on www.delmarsandpiper.org)


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