The Movable Fair – A Bold New Plan &              A Much Better Alternative

It spreads the wealth; it brings the fair to the people; it offers changing views of presenting the best of California that truly reflects the diversity of our state; and, it was the way the original State Fair Operated from 1854-1859. So why has it never been considered by Cal Expo through its decades of failed planning?

Sacramento, of course, would resist such a change. But when they consider how much more is to be gained by putting the world’s hub for all things green (The CEAV Project) on the site, and benefits that dwarf anything the State Fair has to offer, it would be foolish not to jump at the chance.



On May 21,  The CEAV Project presented to Cal Expo a bold new plan for revitalizing the State Fair and upgrading its future as a truly new and exciting event for all of California.  It is unlikely (though possible) that this document will even be discussed in Cal Expo’s review of development plan alternatives or appear in the local press. Why not?  Because the politicians and powers of the current Sacramento-based event view the California Exposition & State Fair as a local matter, for the benefit of the local community and local economy only. In short, what was supposed to serve and belong to all the people of the state has become a very narrow and private  affair operated for the benefit of a few special and entrenched local interests.  Everyone else in the state is simply supposed to travel here and spend their money for those special interest pockets – and they are doing less of that every year.

The plan sketch for a wholly new approach to the matter was sent to Cal Expo’s Board of Director’s and their Operations & Planning Committee on May 19th.  The following is the text of that communication:

      THE CALIFORNIA EXPOSITION & STATE FAIR
               A MOVABLE SHOWCASE

                   May 18,  2010

   Presented to the Cal Expo Board of Directors
                       by
                 The CEAV Project 
      California Advocates for the 21st Century

Synopsis:

This brief sketch proposes that Cal Expo and the California Legislature consider the possibility of changing the presentation of The California Exposition and State Fair from a fixed-site, single city event offering to that of one which rotates between various counties and regions of the state.  This is nothing new.   From 1854 through 1859 the original California  State Fair was a  movable event that was hosted annually at different locations.  We are suggesting that the obstacles which historically prevented this mode from continuing have largely been removed and that a statewide  rotational venue for the State Fair  might solve some difficult contemporary problems of maintaining a sustainable State Fair in addition to restoring some benefits perceived by the founding members of the California Agriculture Society which presented the first State Fair offerings.  Hosting the fair at different locations, over time, would also mean spreading and sharing the wealth, stimulus and other benefits which a well-run State Fair should provide to all the regions and citizens of California. Rotating the State Fair in this fashion could also help to revitalize and strengthen the County Fair systems, which are struggling to remain a solvent and sustainable enterprise in the 21st century.  This proposal is cognizant of the fact that it entertains potentials for vacating the current site of Cal Expo and  further invites consideration of plans to sell off the property to private developers as a means of financing its implementation or in support of other local  projects in Sacramento.  We oppose such disposal of public assets and we believe far more beneficial public uses of that land exist.  Regardless of local convenience and schedules, the need to given serious and lengthy review to the future status of these assets is even more critical during times of economic hardship when the temptation to sell off unrecoverable  holdings is greatest and short-term gains may tend to overwhelm long-term benefits and the overall economic health of the state. For this reason,  the ‘movable State Fair’ proposal strongly opposes incorporating such disposals of current land holdings in this or any other proposals the Cal Expo Board may consider.

The Problems:

Deteriorating facilities, declining interest, financial shortfalls and decades of inability to create a viable and sustainable vision of the future of the California Exposition & State Fair  have prevented bringing many decades of Cal Expo development plans to fruition.  The processes of attempting to do that have cast doubt on the ability of the state to really showcase the best of its offerings, traditions and diversity as Cal Expo’s mission officially describes.  Recent history shows that the state’s ability to manage or operate a state fair is no longer assured.  Changing public interests, priorities and economics have all challenged us to examine some basic and essential questions about the nature of state fairs.  Once unthinkable, even such matters such as  ‘what is a state fair?’ and  ‘is a state fair really necessary?’  have become legitimate subjects of inquiry under the current debates on the roles of government, present economic difficulties and the changing need and interest climates of the 21st century.  The crises that have beset Cal Expo and its current management for the past decade have only amplified the need to squarely face some of these questions and provide competent and publicly acceptable answers.

The Current Climate of Discussion:

For nearly a decade, long since the ambitions to realize a full-scale vision for Cal Expo have collapsed entirely, the  entire focus of discussion about the future plans for Cal Expo has been limited exclusively to two elements, neither of them directly associated with the mission of Cal Expo.  The first has been decidedly absorbed with financing any future plan and with the sale of some or all of the current land assets under the purview of Cal Expo to private developers. These plans have entertained such ideas as selling the public commons for such things as financing sports-arenas and creating shopping malls and other mixed-use development for profit.  The second determination, though somewhat vague, has been of creating the “new vision” of The California Exposition & State Fair as some kind of  entertainment ‘theme-park’ with commercial trade-show exhibit space and a few ancillary events.  Indeed, the current land-swap plan included an offer by developer Gerry Kamilos to provide a team of “ex-Disney employees” to help develop the “theme park” concept for the “new” State Fair.

Clearly, neither of these basic ideas in the current review have anything to do with Cal Expo’s mission. They have to do with financing, through the sale of existing state assets, and a vision mainly focused on  commercial showcasing and entertainment along with traditional agricultural exhibits.  In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with those enterprises.  However, few would argue that, other than some of its agricultural components, the other interests  express the intents of the mission of the California State Fair.   While Cal Expo’s current manager has stated publicly that “All alternatives will be considered,”  the present reviews by that agency have only considered these two narrowly limited ideas: 1) how private development serves  those plans,  and 2)  where  the current operations should be sited excluding locations other than the Sacramento area.  Funds have already be expanded to examine those, and only those, “alternatives”.  There are no other other serious public reviews taking place besides ones which  fall within those constraints.  Questions concerning what a State Fair is and what plans would support its mission are left entirely out of serious examination.  Mr. Bartosik’s  recent public statement, “We have to be able to demonstrate to the board and the community we have looked at all the options before we make a decision.”  (Sacramento Bee, 5/17)  really includes only plans that fit the  two preconditioned requirements:  a fixed, permanent and local Sacramento site;  and, the private development of the current Cal Expo site as a principle means of financing.

The ‘discussion of alternatives’,  then, consists only of predetermined conditions that admit no real alternatives to  the two plans under consideration:  The land-swap, or the refurbishing of the present site and the sale of its remaining, unused public commons.  In conclusion, any discussion (any invitation) of alternatives to the current planning models needs to be freed from the above constraints, if they are to be regarded as real  alternatives.

Things Have Changed:

In the period from 1854 through 1859, the State Fair was quite a different operation than it is today.  During that time, the fair annually traveled to a new location and was sequentially hosted at Sacramento, Marysville, Stockton and San Jose.  In 1859, owing to the experience and difficulties of travel and communications, the fair moved to a ‘permanent location’ to overcome these shortcomings. It has remained in Sacramento ever since.   In subsequent years, a fixed, permanent location  has served as the central focus for planning Cal Expo’s future.

What has changed, of course, is that those early hardships of travel and communications, existing in mid-nineteenth century California, no longer exist.  Indeed, major shows and exhibits, throughout the nation, regularly travel long distances and are hosted in various cities and other venues.  Green Expo, for instance is a major trade-show which regularly travels to a number of U.S.cities.  While personal travel  in a state as large as California,  has similarly improved, going to the state fair still presents persistent challenges to the average state resident and undoubtedly excludes many Californians from attending their own State  Fair.

In addition, the increasing complexity of activity and the spread of the enormous range of diversity throughout the state has imposed a narrowing of a  State Fair, fixed, location-based  concept to a one-size-fits-all type of planning that is compelled to discover the most general and homogenous  formula to market its activities, rather than highlighting the  variety and interests that make the different regions in California quite unique in their special contributions the state’s character.  While a cow is always a cow, no matter where  it is raised, few would argue that ranching or farming in the Central Valley, for instance, is identical to  agricultural practices in, say,  those of the Southern part of the state or elsewhere.  Were the State Fair held in different regions, urban and rural divisions, desert and coastal climates and geographies, the industries of the Bay Area, the products and people of Silicone Valley or San Diego  or Eureka would all be presented  and treated quite differently at a locally hosted State Fair.

An Alternative Concept:  The Movable Fair.

Call it “Divergence” if you wish,  the Movable Fair concept suggests that there may be significant value in modern variations of returning to the original idea of the State Fair as a mobile event.  With the transportation and communications obstacles of 1859 behind us, the concept of sequentially  rotating the location of the State Fair to various counties and/or regions throughout the state becomes a feasible alternative to a single, fixed-location venue and ought be seriously considered in any review of potential future plans. Indeed, that part of the planning  might better be derived from descriptions offered by the many California Counties and regions who might want to participate in sequentially hosting the State  Fair.

Some counties might find it to their benefit to host it for several years  running. Others might wish to host it infrequently or not at all.  In some areas regional or multi-county venues might be more desirable than single-county presentations. Others might prefer to expand, update and utilize their existing County Fairs and fairgrounds during their State Fair schedules.  Some might desire to create wholly new State Fair facilities and venues.  Along with scheduling and locations for hosting a State Fair, economic, social and commercial interests could equally be tailored in these various presentations to make the State Fair, over time, an event custom tailored to embody the best of a statewide presentation themes and focus that draw upon  regional interests, strengths and resources existing in different localities.  County fair and local fair jurisdictions would continue to provide local offerings, both in hosted and in non-hosted years as well.  The State Fair , however,  would offer a way of spreading  accessibility and economic benefits while encouraging the  tailoring of  a State Fair that could  and encompass, over time, a far greater number of representations of California than any single, locally-bound State-Fair might offer..

Pros:

  1. A movable fair spreads both benefits and  access statewide and permits the State Fair to become a shared reality, rather than being dominated by current marketing/entertainment and localized strategies that are directed toward the needs and interests of a single city or region.
  2. It certainly spreads the wealth in a manner more consistent with the purposes of state  activities and investments.  It may open new economic potentials to areas which otherwise do not currently benefit in any direct way from the Sacramento-based State Fair.
  3. It greatly increases the base of both participants and visitors, including large segments of the California population who would otherwise not have means or interest in traveling the distances or bearing the costs of visiting a remote venue.
  4. It not only puts the Fair (at least every so many years) at a location where the people of California are conveniently nearby, it also opens avenues for showcasing the best of California and its peoples by bringing it within reach of far more  exhibitors and commercial  specializations than can currently afford to compete for showcasing or demonstrating their limited offerings in some distant city.
  5. It stimulates new creativity in its presentation, exhibits and events by localizing participation in Fair design and creation.
  6. It offers an intermittent boost to local economies and a complement to local culture without creating the kinds of dependencies that result in make-or-break critical decisions driven wholly by local concerns, economics and politics.
  7. It avoids the settlement of State Fair Cultures, which resist any sharing of something they have come to rely upon as their ‘due’,  permanent jobs and permanent events which leave others in the state, with equal abilities, imagination and interests, entirely out of the picture.
  8. It provides healthy competition, geographically and  culturally to improve each successive hosting over those of previous years and locations; to utilize the best of local talents. Statewide, it offers new recognition to regions of the state hosting the State Fair as well as  exhibitors and  audiences.

Cons:

There are, no doubt, a myriad of complex administrative, financial and regulatory details to be worked out.  Some  will present considerable challenges. To begin with,  just how such an undertaking should be handled organizationally will require some significant and creative new understandings of how state and local agencies can work cooperatively on joint ventures.  What divisions of responsibility for central and local management will need to be defined and delegated?  Who is to finance what parts and how are benefits to be shared?  These and many other questions remain.  However, until the concept of a movable State Fair is seriously considered as an alternative to the current land-sale, fixed location options, these objections will remain only that – objections. There will be no serious attempt to understand what might be needed to change the mode of presenting the State Fair as a multiple venue event, let alone how such changes might be correctly managed and implemented.

In addition to all of the new problems and implementations that have to be considered, the movable fair concept entirely depends on how the Counties and Regions of the state respond to the matter. It is a much larger tent than the present fixed-base Fair concept has ever considered.  Yet, it remains that the State Fair was to be a public undertaking for the benefit of all the people of California.  This, in itself, will require those involved, at every level, to think in entirely new terms.  Not an impossible task, but one which will require as much thought and careful review as the concept itself.  If a State Fair is really to become a statewide event,  then a century of purely local loyalties, concerns and  networks will have to give way to a broader and more inclusive vision of the future of the State.  We recognize, from the outset, this will not be easy; but, neither do we think it impossible.

Risk To Usable Public Lands:

Given that the Movable Fair proposal also includes the possibility that Cal Expo may wish to vacate its current site in favor of other suitable regional venues to host State Fairs in the future ; ‘A Movable Fair’ also puts at risk the public status of the current land in so far as the sale to private developers may remain  the principle means of satisfying State Fair capital needs and future development.  We believe that alternatives exist which argue that far greater value and public interest can be realized  and served by preserving the site as a public asset.

Request for Action:

Red Slider, a resident of Sacramento, living in the area immediately adjacent Cal Expo and steward of The CEAV Project, a citizen effort to have an alternative proposal for the future development of the Cal Expo site (‘Cal Expo – An Alternate Vision’ – presented to Cal Expo Board of Director on March 26, 2009) requests the following action by the Cal Expo Board of Directors:

1)      That the proposal for a ‘Movable Fair’ as conceptually outlined in this communication be fully and equally reviewed and considered alongside other proposals currently being examined by the Board and its Committees;  and,

2)      That the Board  consider that other public uses for the lands currently held by the State of California and occupied by Cal Expo for its operations may outweigh any proposals which entertain the sale or swap of that property to private interests for private development.  We urge that The CEAV Project proposal for future site use and other public commons use potentials for that land, be thoroughly reviewed  and considered in all development planning activities.  We believe that many public-use alternatives are economically and culturally far superior to any gains that might be anticipated from the sale or swap of Cal Expo land to private developers. We also request that this aspect of the project be given serious analysis and review by Cal Expo in conjunction with the State of California.

Statewide Scope and Consultation:

It goes without saying that a  vital step in the process of evaluating this proposal concept will require inviting review and comment from individual County and regional governmental bodies throughout the state.  It is also seems obvious that such a proposal couldn’t choose a worse time to request that such bodies consider the potentials of a ‘movable fair’  for their various jurisdictions.  All local governments are beset by a variety of serious economic problems which would make it difficult for them to consider plans that will undoubtedly require resources and focused attention to review.  This is true despite the fact that the concept itself may offer many potentials to stimulate and revitalize aspects of local economies in the future.

However, there is really little choice in requesting inclusion of this proposal in Cal Expo’s planning and review processes at this time.  Cal Expo is moving rapidly toward decisions that would exclude consideration of any competing  alternatives, no matter what advantages they might offer.  Without advance warning, Cal Expo elected to move ahead with the exclusive  examination of only two plans for future development, disregarding the fact that other alternatives from the public had already been formally suggested and that more might have been expected had the process been opened to public participation and a call for ideas from the public. Unfortunately this step was never included by the Cal Expo Board in its current process, though such a call for an open period for submitting future  development  ideas was made to the Board  on March 26, 2010 in a public presentation to the Board  by The CEAV Project (see  CEAV attachment in  the Cal Expo Board Meeting minutes, March 26, 2010) .   The fact that the Cal Expo Board chose to ignore that recommendation left little choice but to submit the ‘Movable State Fair’  concept without further delay.

Submitted by:

Red Slider, steward
The CEAV Project
ceav@ceav.us
www.ceav.us and  www.stopcalexpo.worpress.com

cc: & et. al.

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