“Why is it that Orange County fairgrounds, which doesn’t have a racetrack, has $53 million in reserves and we are $96 million in debt?"
Without the fair and special events held throughout the year, the Del Mar fairgrounds has announced it expects to be $65 million in the hole by the end of summer. A hat-in-hand plea to borrow $5 million from the board that runs the Orange County fair was rejected July 23. The fairgrounds is in the process of laying off 60 percent of its 157-person full-time staff.
Fair management found it could get an extra $70,000 per month by leasing unused parking to rental car companies who use acres of asphalt for storage. But a potential lifeline seemed to arrive with Governor Newsom’s announced $750 million plan to subsidize new homeless housing programs throughout the state. In May the Del Mar fairgrounds board (officially known as the 22nd District Agricultural Association) announced it was dealing with a company known as Fixx Solutions to run a new program on the fairgrounds that would house up to 1500 homeless in portable FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailers.
Erwin Shustak: “I understand the fairgrounds is desperate to bring in cash flow.”
The Union-Tribune first told the world about Fixx Solutions and its Del Mar Fairground housing proposal in a long May 21 article titled “One-year pilot program would include 200 or more modular units at Del Mar.” A June 21 U-T article announced that the board that runs the fair was “…pushing ahead with a preliminary plan to install temporary housing.” It quoted board member Don Mosier who said, “There has been quite a bit of progress on the Fixx proposal.”
Attorney Erwin Shustak who lives near the fairgrounds was concerned at the announcement. “I’ve been a fraud lawyer for 44 years. The first thing I do when you tell me you want to do business with someone, I say, ‘Do you know who they are? Give me 24 hours to look into them.”
He says his look into Fixx Solutions and its principals showed a history of judgements, litigation, personal bankruptcies, and liens involving its principal Jeffrey Pink. “And they had no discoverable history of experience working with housing and with caring for that community,” says Shustak.
Fixx Solutions, which appears to be based out of the Woodland Hills home of Jeffrey Pink, gave a similar proposal to open a shelter near Oroville in Northern California. At their March 19 meeting, members of the Oroville city council said they were concerned that Fixx was “being dishonest” and “not representing who they say they are.” Also, “[Fixx Solutions] are just trying to find a place to make money,” and “They say they’ve been coming up here for many months, yet nobody locally knows of this organization at all.”
An email from a board member indicates that Fixx Solutions was brought forward by board member Lisa Barkett.
Pink, who represented himself at that meeting via an audio teleconference told the Oroville council, “I’m sorry if you think we’re a dishonest company.” However, one councilmember responded by saying, “I don’t want to hear anything more from this person.”
Shustak, who is the president of the Rancho Del Mar Association, a community of 125 homes on Via de la Valle, says he is not against the idea of housing the homeless at the fairgrounds. “We’re not Nimbys. I just want to make it 100 percent clear we’re concerned about doing business with people whose backgrounds should be fully investigated.” He told the Del Mar Fair board that he discovered eight judgements against Jeffrey Pink totaling over $980,000, and almost $200,000 of federal and state tax liens filed against another member of the Fixx Solutions team. “Both Pink and a third member of his team have a history of personal bankruptcy filings.
“I want to make it clear that having judgements or liens or bankruptcies in your past doesn’t necessarily mean you are not qualified,” says Shustak. “What it does mean is you have to be very careful and ask a lot of hard questions of who you’re doing business with.
“I understand the fairgrounds is desperate to bring in cash flow,” says Shustak. “But that doesn’t mean that you should make more ill-informed decisions to increase that cash flow. That’s not how you solve your problems.”
On July 28 Jeffrey Pink told me that after three months, Fixx Solutions was withdrawing its plan to house the homeless at the Fairgrounds.
“We’re withdrawing our San Diego proposal,” Pink said by phone. “We decided it’s not worth our time.”
But many who follow the workings of the Del Mar Fairgrounds suggest that the whole Fixx affair which got such prominent, front-and-center attention from the Del Mar Fair board, suggests a deeper problem with the fair board itself.
At the July 14 Del Mar Fair board meeting, the fairground staff said the Fixx Solutions proposal came to them as an unsolicited proposal.
But an email from a board member indicates that Fixx Solutions was brought forward by fellow board member Lisa Barkett. Del Mar Deputy Mayor Terry Gaasterland and others confirmed that it was in fact Barkett who brought Fixx Solutions forward.
And according to attorney Shustak, that introduces questions about board member Barkett.
“Why she’s on the board is beyond me,” Shustak says. “I think if you have millions of dollars of judgments against you, and allegations of conflicts of interests, and pending litigation with family members involving other public projects, that should mean you have automatic disqualifications against voting on other public projects. The board members of the 22nd DAA are the custodians of public property and the public’s trust. Their own personal dealings and backgrounds should be beyond reproach.”
The San Gabriel Valley Tribune published a story last year that told how Lisa Barkett and her husband William were sued by Lisa Barkett’s sister and brother-in-law for $3.5million for an unpaid loan for a solar farm. The paper wrote: “Defendants William and Lisa are a married couple with an extensive history of borrowing money from lenders and not repaying them, the lawsuit states. The couple allegedly lived well beyond their means by using shell companies and ownership transfers to avoid foreclosures and other asset seizures.”
A cursory public records search shows a number of judgments and liens against Lisa Barkett and her husband of almost $7 million.
Many emails and phone calls to Barkett and to Del Mar Fairgrounds marketing director Jennifer Hellman to try to get comments directly from Barkett were not successful.
Barkett has served on the Del Mar Fair board since 2011. She has been reappointed twice by the governor who appoints all nine members of the Del Mar Fair board.
Shustak thinks there is a systemic problem with the Del Mar Fair board. “Why is it that Orange County [Fairgrounds] which doesn’t have a racetrack, which has a much smaller fair, and doesn’t have a beautiful facility like we have, have $53 million in reserves and we are $96 million in debt with no reserves. Something doesn’t seem right.”