The Kern County Fair may soon close permanently if it cannot find enough grant money or donations to cover its financial losses during the coronavirus shutdown, members of the event's board of directors warned Wednesday.
With only enough money to pay fair employees through June, board members voted in emergency session to authorize CEO Mike Olcott to add their names to letters appealing for emergency funding from the state and the county Board of Supervisors.
Fair officials attributed the financial shortfall to two factors: a state decision in 2011 to end direct financial support and the fair's inability to continue hosting events that would otherwise allow it to continue generating money to pay for continuing operations.
"It's not a no fair for (2020), it's a no fair again," Chairwoman Blodgie Rodriguez said during the nearly 90-minute meeting. "We are very much in dire straights right now without the ability to support ourselves and create our own revenue.”
Board members largely blamed the state for the situation, saying the governor's stay-at-home order should obligate state government to provide some form of financial help. Plus, they said the board has little flexibility to suddenly lay off workers who are state employees.
But considering the size of the problem — $3 million will be required to carry the fair until January if a decision is made to cancel this year's annual event, as 20 of 78 county fairs have done — board members suggested using social media and other means to solicit donations to the fair's charitable arm.
The question arose as to whether the fair could schedule a swap meet as a way to raise money. The fair rents space to outside organizations and makes half of 1 percent of all purchases made on the county fairgrounds.
Rodriguez said hosting a swap meet in the near term doesn't appear to be an option, however. She said she consulted county public health officials and was told such an event would be out of the question.
Board member Lucas Espericueta said the state should give the board flexibility to host events if it feels it that can be done safely.
"I’m not a big fan of a centralized area in Sacramento telling regional areas how to operate,” he said. "We should be able to make those decisions.”
Espericueta noted the fair has been unable to get a bank loan to temporarily cover its expenses. He lamented the sudden downturn in finances after years of financial progress and capital improvements.
But he also voiced hope that the money will come through somehow and that an event that has meant so much to local families will survive.
"I know that something’s going to happen,” he said. "The community will not stand for us not having a big cultural exchange like the fair.”
"I’m excited," he added. "I think some good will come out of this chaos.”