Fairgrounds sets cannabis event policy

Board receives update on budget

WATSONVILLE — The Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Board of Directors approved a policy Tuesday that allows up to four cannabis-related events at the fairgrounds annually.

The move follows an Aug. 28 decision by the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, which approved a plan to allow the events at the fairgrounds, along with a set of regulations governing the events.

Under the regulations, event promoters must agree on a contract with the 14th District Agricultural Association. Then, they must seek approval by the County of Santa Cruz, as well as receive a temporary event license from the California State Bureau of Cannabis Control.

Among the lengthy lists of regulations, distribution of free cannabis samples is prohibited at the events, and all exhibitors and vendors must pay taxes on any sales from the event, such as the County Cannabis Business Tax.

The new regulations on marijuana events came after organizers for Dreamsesh — which was held in April at the fairgrounds — ran the event without authorization or knowledge of the county’s Cannabis Licensing Office, according to then-Cannabis Licensing Manager Robin Bolster-Grant.

Santa Cruz County Fair CEO Dave Kegebein said he is seeking clarification from the state if the fairgrounds can run a cannabis event itself. In the meantime, the fairgrounds is looking for proposals from third party vendors who are interested in running cannabis events on the grounds.

"The RFP [Request for Proposal] will be sent to a limited field of experienced promoters to see who's got the right package," Kegebein said.

Proposed dates for the events are April 5-7, July 26-28 and Oct. 25-27.

Also during Tuesday's meeting, Kegebein gave the board a positive report on the fairgrounds' financial picture.

The fairgrounds' revenue exceeded $2 million in 2018, according to Kegebein, nearly doubling the number from 2012. This was primarily driven by strong fair admission revenue, with $585,697 collected in 2018, up from $537,167 in 2017.

At the same time, expenses have been keeping pace with revenues, at $2.05 million in 2018. Kegebein said he expects wages to begin leveling off, after experiencing "very rapidly, very dramatically" increases over the past few years.

"We are getting a little stronger every year," he said. "We are making a lot of repairs and getting the place on track."

The Fairgrounds Foundation, which supports various improvement projects around the grounds, also enjoyed a strong year of revenue driven by grants and membership fees, with more than $638,000 received in 2018. More than $400,000 from the foundation went to fairgrounds improvements over the year.

In other fairgrounds news, the board is in the early stages of a strategic planning process that aims to gather public input on future fairgrounds activities.

"The idea is to get public input, so we know what the community that we serve expects of us," said Director Don Dietrich, who was elected president of the board during Tuesday's meeting. "We want to make sure that we are providing what the community actually wants within reason."

The board expects to secure a contract with a data collection service in March, and begin public outreach later this year.


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