The San Diego County Fair attracts thousands of visitors a year. A chair lift ride is seen here in 2017. / Photo by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña

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A few months ago, it was unclear if the annual county fair in Del Mar would be happening this year, or at least with the same rides and games that tens of thousands of people enjoy each year. 

That uncertainty stemmed from a lawsuit against the 22nd Agricultural District Association, a state government entity that operates the Del Mar Fairgrounds, for allegedly rigging a contract with a carnival operator it signed in January.   

The District operates the Fairgrounds on behalf of the state of California, and its board members are appointed by the governor. 

Fortunately for San Diego residents, the 22nd District reached a settlement that paused the lawsuit and allowed the fair to go on as scheduled with the usual number of rides and games. But now that the fair is over, the lawsuit is back on. 

Here’s what happened: The controversy started when Talley Amusements, a carnival operator headquartered in Texas, sued the District over the awarding of this year’s contract to Ray Cammack Shows, another carnival operator headquartered in Arizona, giving them the exclusive rights to run the rides and games at the fair.  

Talley also sued over a contract the District handled last year, accusing the District of changing the scores during the 2021 bid selection process to make sure Ray Cammack Shows would beat out Talley Amusements. And soon after Talley formally protested it, the District canceled the request for proposals altogether, citing COVID-19 concerns. 

Months later, the District announced a new request for proposals, one with stricter requirements than the previous one. Talley couldn’t meet the new requirements and alleged that Ray Cammack Shows was the only bidder in the country that could. 

The District awarded that contract to Ray Cammack Shows in January 2022. 

Two former employees of the Del Mar Fairgrounds – former contracts manager Michael Ceragioli and former contracts analyst Jean Fluornoy – testified in separate depositions that Del Mar Fairgrounds CEO Carlene Moore had the scores changed during the bid selection process in 2021 to ensure Ray Cammack Shows would be selected. 

In April, Superior Court Judge Kenneth Medel issued a preliminary injunction ruling that the 22nd District likely did manipulate the scores and rigged qualifications to favor Ray Cammack Shows. 

But as this scandal continues to unfold, Moore still holds her position as CEO, there has been no internal investigation from the 22nd District and the board has remained silent.  

The Department of General Services, the Department of Food and Agriculture and the Governor’s office all have some oversight capacity over the state agency, but have not conducted their own investigations. 

The Union-Tribune reported in June that 22nd District board member Don Mosier learned about the score changing weeks before it became public and before the two former employees testified about it. 

Paul Blaney, director of sales and rentals and head of the concessions department at the District, testified in a deposition that Ceragioli phoned into a meeting in December and told the group, including Mosier, that the scores had been changed. 

Mosier then voted, along with the other board members, to award that contract to Ray Cammack Shows in January. He didn’t mention Ceragioli’s claims at the board meeting. 

Deanna Spehn, policy director for state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, was also at the meeting, the Union-Tribune reported. 

Related: John Moot, the attorney for Talley Amusements, told Voice of San Diego that Talley has also filed a lawsuit against the 32nd Agricultural District Association, which oversees the Orange County Fair. 

The Orange County Fair has contracted Ray Cammack Shows to run the rides and games at the fair for almost 20 years. 

In 2021, the 32nd District issued a request for proposals, creating an opportunity for a competitive bidding process that would give another carnival operator a chance to win the bid for one of the largest fairs in the country. 

But Ray Cammack Shows was the only carnival operator to respond and was awarded the contract. Talley Amusements alleges the 32nd District rigged the qualifications and created requirements only Ray Cammack Shows could meet, mirroring Talley Amusements’ allegations against the 22nd District.  

In Other News 

  • San Diego will receive $300 million to help relocate the train tracks off the Del Mar bluffs. The eroding bluffs have proven to be a hazard, and SANDAG is hoping to move the tracks inland and underground by 2030. The entire project is currently estimated at $2.5 billion. (Union-Tribune) 
  • Vista is moving forward with a plan to potentially allow three cannabis cultivation facilities in the Vista Business Park. The city already has 11 dispensaries, and with this decision, those dispensaries could have a Vista-cultivated brand to sell to their customers. (Union-Tribune) 
  • A new family justice center called One Safe Place is now open in San Marcos, helping survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking and child abuse in North County. The project was spearheaded by San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. (Coast News) 

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1 Comment

  1. How is it possible the CEO still has her job and the Ag Board has done nothing? The Fairgrounds is in desperate need of adult supervision and professional management. They should fire the lot of them and lease it to Sea World or the Zoo.

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