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Orange County Fair officials have for now pushed off any consideration to raise ticket prices this year, though parking rates at the fairgrounds will go up by a dollar.

Fair Board directors at their first nighttime meeting on Thursday didn’t vote to approve any ticket price hikes at the fair gates for this summer, following public backlash and uncertainty by some directors that they had enough information to make such a decision.

But it’s not off the table for good, OC Fair Board Directors said before their vote Thursday.

Meanwhile, parking rates will go up from $9 to $10 – a “no brainer” decision, board members called it, to help ease the flow of traffic during the fair season.

Before any ticket price increases are approved, Fair Board Director Andreas Meyer said the agency needs to think about a long-term financial strategy “in the context of what our goals as a property are.”

“I personally don’t think that we should increase gate ticket prices until we have a clear, big picture at hand,” he continued, adding that he didn’t object to the parking rate increase.

“I think it’s nominal and it probably would help with flow in terms of giving over a $10 bill over having to give change,” he said.

Board Director Ashleigh Aitken before the vote agreed with Meyer, citing the board’s recent opportunities to spend “a lot of time lifting the hood” on the agency’s financial decisions and strategies since the fair changed CEO’s — a role now filled by former executive staffer Michele Richards.

“Until we really have our new CEO wrap her arms around what is going on, what our budget is going to look like, I think we should hold off on (ticket price increases),” Aitken said.

But price hikes aren’t completely out of the question, she added.

“We shouldn’t make a promise like that — but I think until we have a look at it as part of a larger budget analysis, and have our new CEO weigh in, maybe this is something that we can push off until next year, when it’s determined that we have to push this onto our consumers and the public,” Aitken said.

Richards and her staff have previously said the agency will have to reckon with regional economic forces like increased labor costs – onset by minimum wage increases – that the fair could offset financially by increasing ticket prices to increase fair revenue.

Staff brought forward a number of different scenarios, which ranged from $1-2 increases for adults on the weekdays to changes to available discounts and promo deals.

Still, some on the board felt it was time to increase ticket prices, seeing it as a sound decision based on the information in front of them.

“We need to do something,” Board Director Natalie Rubalcava-Garcia said. “There are clear expenses that have already increased. I do agree that we can cut back in some areas, however a healthy business – whether it’s public or private – does require some additional revenue sources.”

Members of the public sounded off on staff’s proposal before the vote Thursday, all of whom said the agency should first look at other ways to cut down on areas of its budget and expenses before laying the cost on members of the public.

Fair watchdog Reggie Mundekis pointed to all the discounted and free admission deals the fair offers, which she said possibly drives a large volume of the fair’s attendance numbers, and pointed to a recent move by the neighboring Los Angeles County Fair to deal with labor costs by cutting down its hours of operation during periods when attendance was lower, rather than raise ticket prices.

“You may not be making enough money during the periods where admission is driven by free admission. You may not be making enough money from concessions and carnival commissions to actually break even, let alone turn a profit,” Mundekis added.

Vincent Pollmeier, director for the Friends and Neighbors of the Orange County Fairgrounds watchdog group, pointed to online reactions to a previous Voice of OC article on the possible ticket price increases, arguing the increased cost won’t bode well with people who already are dissatisfied with the current quality of the fair.

“It’s like a cheap, knock off Disneyland that ends up being more expensive than Disneyland,” said one comment on the online discussion forum Reddit, which Pollmeier read in front of the board.

“I hate the OC fair. In the daytime it’s a hot sweaty asphalt ridden barrage of heat, and at night time there’s way too many people to enjoy the overpriced food, the fixed games, or the questionably safe rides,” read another comment.

The issue of ticket prices will go back to the board’s finance committee for further discussion.

Coming back to the issue of ticket price increases is “inevitable,” Rubalcava-Garcia said toward the end of the discussion. “It’s unpopular, so it’s difficult for some people to say yes, but I think we need to give clear direction so that we can get here at some point.” 

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporting fellow. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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