san diego county fair

‘The Fair Must Go On': After Threat to Cancel, San Diego County Fair Organizers Work to Make It Happen

A judge upheld his ruling that the fair cannot use a contractor because of allegations of rigged contract qualifications

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This year’s San Diego County Fair is less than two months away, but a legal setback is making it difficult for organizers ⁠— the 22nd District Agricultural Association (DAA) ⁠— to put on the event with the contractor it chose to run the game and rides section.

DAA and Talley Amusement are locked in a court duel over the contract for the midway, the area of the fair where food, amusement rides and classic carnival games are found.

NBC 7's Rory Devine explains why the fair is caught up with contractors offering rides and amusements.

In a statement, Del Mar Fairground spokeswoman Jennifer Hellman said:

"On April 5, 2022, the San Diego Superior Court issued a procedural ruling that stopped the 22nd DAA from proceeding with the current Master Carnival Operator (“MCO”) contract for the 2022 fair. Earlier today, the court issued a subsequent order that, while declining to stay that ruling while the DAA pursues its appeal rights, allows the fair to restart selling tickets for a midway at this summer’s fair. 

"We are doing everything we can to preserve a full carnival midway at the fair. 

"We are continuing discussions with the involved parties about a modified contract, and we remain hopeful that we can reach a meaningful and appropriate resolution very soon. However, we cannot simply hand over the contract to the plaintiffs or anyone else in this case — we must follow a process that ensures that whatever solution we come up with is fair and equitable and complies with the law. 

"We will continue to provide updates as they become available."

Talley Amusements is accusing the DAA of helping along an unfair bidding process for the midway contract. A judge effectively agreed by issuing an injunction.

"We are willing to put aside the lawsuit for a year, and come out and put on a carnival on the midway and make this year’s fair happen," Talley Amusements attorney John Moot said. "It wouldn’t take Talley Amusements but three or four weeks to pack up the rides, equipment and games for the fair and be out in time to set that up."

The San Diego Business Journal estimates the rides and attractions at the fair in Del Mar lure in 1.5 million people and generate $230 million in local spending.

A five-year midway contract is worth some $80 million and employs between 150 and 200 people, according to Moot.

“We’re having direct discussions with Talley to try and resolve this,” DAA attorney Kevin Alexander said.

In 2019, organizers said they had 60,000 daily visitors and 500 vendors — 35% of which are San Diego-based.

According to their lawyer, the DAA let go of 85% of its staff because there was no fair revenue. The 2020 event was cancelled due to the pandemic; last year’s version was scaled down.

This year, the DAA could lose $6 million in net revenue if it doesn't put on the fair — which could result in additional layoffs, Alexander said.

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