What's to become of our Napa County Fairgrounds?

Diane Dillon believes the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga should be preserved for public benefit.

“I am fighting for a solution that will preserve Napa County Fairgrounds for public benefit, and as a proud feature of Calistoga. As District 3 Supervisor, I will continue to do everything I can to urge the County and my fellow Supervisors to invest in Fairgrounds property and assets."

ISSUE: What’s to become of the Napa County Fairgrounds?

WHERE THINGS NOW STAND:  As it currently stands, the management of the Fairgrounds will shift at the end of the year from the Napa County Fair Association (NCFA) to the County. Then the Board of Supervisors will need to decide whether to continue to invest funds for maintaining and operating the Fairgrounds as it has done for decades, or if a new use and funding model is called for (more on that below).

MY POSITION: I am fighting for a solution that will preserve Napa County Fairgrounds for public benefit, and as a proud feature of Calistoga. As District 3 Supervisor, I will continue to do everything I can to urge the County and my fellow Supervisors to invest in Fairgrounds property and assets.

SOME BACKGROUND Calistoga’s 70-acre Napa County Fairgrounds is County-owned, and has been operated on the County’s behalf for decades by the nonprofit Napa County Fair Association (NCFA). Unfortunately, since the State abruptly pulled its traditional fairgrounds funding in 2011, this hardworking board has been unable to generate enough revenue to solve this funding crisis.

We’ve now reached a critical new decision point and must take some action as the NCFA plans to cease operating the fairgrounds at the end of 2018, and responsibility will revert to the County. The County alone cannot re-invest sufficient capital to repair, maintain, and run the Fairgrounds, and has been meeting, talking, and collaborating with all stakeholders to find a solution. No agreements have yet been reached, and, understandably, rumors fuel community fears for the Fairgrounds’ fate.

There are big questions here, and despite years of effort, we have yet to reach consensus. Since we must re-think the Fairgrounds’ financial model, we have to ask--Who should own this property? Run it? Do citizens care deeply enough about keeping the fairgrounds for public use to commit resources for its care? Or do citizens want all or part of the acreage to be developed differently, even sold for private development?

DIGGING DEEPER:  I was previously hopeful, when the NCFA board in 2016 took up my idea for the County and City of Calistoga to form a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA), that the City and County could become partners for investing in and operating the Fairgrounds for public use. Unfortunately, after working throughout 2017 (interrupted by fires) to achieve this, the County Board of Supervisors and Calistoga’s City Council could not hammer out such a JPA, and the talks pivoted instead to a sale.

I DO support selling the property to the City of Calistoga, at a price that is not more than the appraised value for current use. If the City later decides to develop any of the property to some other non-public use, then any profits made from such a venture should be shared between the County and City. (Contrary to rumor I do NOT support the County selling the property for housing or other development.)

None of this is easy. Like the JPA idea before it, the plan for a County sale to the City has also reached an impasse. Right now (May 21, 2018), it appears that a majority of each of the two bodies (Council and Supervisors) are not able to reach an agreement regarding sale.   

FROM MY POSITION AS SUPERVISOR,  I will continue to do everything I can to urge the County and my fellow Supervisors to invest in Fairgrounds property and assets.

We must address the decades-old deferred maintenance issues and revitalize these assets. I believe the County is committed to doing what is necessary to keep the almost 70 acres of fairgrounds property operational, but much more is needed.

I will also continue to advocate for sale to the City of Calistoga because I believe that is the best way for the property to be preserved for the benefit of the Calistoga community and others that care about it (e.g., race track preservationists). Short of that, I still believe that a JPA between the two entities is the next best solution.