Orange County’s 23-day fair won’t be happening this year, as an ongoing coronavirus public health crisis has prompted state officials to put a stop to all large events and mass gatherings.
Editor’s Note: As Orange County’s only nonprofit & nonpartisan newsroom, Voice of OC brings you the best, most comprehensive local Coronavirus news absolutely free. No ads, no paywalls. We need your help. Please, click here to make a tax-deductible donation today to support your local news.
The cancelation — expected for weeks as the 150-acre fairgrounds property had all but closed its facilities to the public and other county fairs up and down the state already canceled theirs — was made official by the OC Fair and Events Center Board of Directors in a unanimous vote at their Monday special meeting.
After their vote, directors said they were open to any ways the fair could stay relevant this year in spirit.
“This is a very hard decision to make, but also an opportunity to get creative,” said director Natalie Rubalcava-Garcia. “I’m excited to see what ideas the board comes up with to make sure we’re still rep the fair virtually and potential opp for econ dev even if it’s not at the level we’ve been able to in the past.”
Director Doug LaBelle said like the OC fairgrounds, “there are many large venues currently not operating and we all hope there will be a process whereby there will be the ability to control this horrendous virus … and then an ability to vaccinate in the future to ensure this will never occur again.”
“I look forward to opportunities online to keep the OC Fair in everybody’s minds,” he added.
The Monday cancelation falls in line with other fairs across the state wary of public health guidelines discouraging mass gatherings for months, at least, as people are already staying at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
County fairs that have opted to cancel this year include San Diego County’s at the neighboring Del Mar Fairgrounds, Contra Costa County in the San Francisco Bay Area, and most recently Sacramento County’s at CalExpo.
The OC Fair, with a spending budget of more than $50 million for 2020, was anticipating nearly $40 million from fair revenue, according to this year’s budget.
Asked Monday about any estimates on losses resulting from the cancelation, and what the fair’s fiscal stability plan could look like as a consequence, OC Fair Communications Director Terry Moore said staff were still working on answers.
With 63 canceled events due to the public health crisis comes $3.74 million in losses for the agency, fair CEO Michele Richards said in a board update on April 23. Only nine events were rescheduled for a later point in time, recouping more than $1 million in projected earnings.
There’s also a question of what the cancelation means for prospective seasonal employees hoping for work at the fair over its 23-day period.
The fair typically hires between 1,300 and 1,500 part-time seasonal employees, most of whom work the fair season.
State, county and fair officials were also eyeing the 150-acre property as a patient overflow site to help ease the strain on local hospitals in the event of a case surge.
But while the nearby Fairview Developmental Center has already been announced as an alternate care site, fair officials have yet to say anything else beyond an April 10 statement from the agency that travel trailers were being delivered to the property.
Before the coronavirus health crisis, fair officials were looking at raising admission prices this summer to deal with the prospect of higher operating costs like labor as a result of regional economic forces.
Fair Board directors in January backed off that proposal, but indicated price increases wouldn’t be off the table in future years.
“This is a very very difficult decision to make,” Fair Board Chair Sandra Cervantes said on Monday, “and I know that we will be back on track in 2021 a slong as large gatherings are permitted at the time.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporting fellow. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @photherecord.