Richard Eckfield knows the perfect way to draw bigger crowds to the Del Mar Fairgrounds. He’s pitched the idea for over three years. The problem is, nobody at the fairgrounds is listening.
Eckfield wants the fairgrounds to build a train stop at the north edge of the San Dieguito River. The idea isn’t new — in the 1930s, racetrack founder Bing Crosby bartered a deal with the Santa Fe Railroad to drop passengers off at the track. Eckfield says that although train passengers can take a trolley to the racetrack from Solana Beach, a dedicated platform would attract more people and cut down on traffic and emissions from the double-decker buses.
Eckfield wasn’t the first person to come up with the idea in recent years: plans for constructing an additional train stop have been included in the fairground’s master plan since 1985. In recent years, officials from North County Transit District, San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), and councilmembers from Del Mar to Encinitas have all supported construction of a new platform. Yet, despite all the support, no headway has been made.
During the past three years, Eckfield has testified in front of the fairground’s board of directors numerous times, pleading with them to arrange a meeting and listen to his ideas for the stop and where they might get the funds for it. There’s been no response.
So, Eckfield went on the offensive, accusing the fair’s CEO, Tim Fennell, of mismanagement and for running the state-owned property like an autocrat, averse to any outside influence.
Eckfield contacted reporters. He testified in front of the fairground's board of directors about the gratuitous 29 percent pay raise they recently approved for Fennell in a closed session meeting late last year (that raise has since been denied by the state). Eckfield attacked Fennell for choosing to ignore the state-mandated furloughs for state employees (that decision has since been overturned and now all fairground employees are required to work eight hours less each week). He criticized a roof project for going nearly $10 million over budget and protested the plans for a time-share hotel to be built on fairground property.
Despite the criticism, fairground spokesperson Talin Hartounian says everyone is on the same track when it comes to the train stop; the reason for all of the delays is finding the cash to fund it.
“As far as whether or not we support it, we absolutely support having a stop at the fairgrounds. We fully support it; however, financially, at this time, it apparently costs a lot more than originally estimated.”