Leon Worden

Valley Fair attracts families, not gangs

Leon Worden · August 27, 1997

"The argument that the Valley Fair would bring in a negative element is ludicrous. The fair is a wholesome American activity that attracts wholesome families."

So says Bob Kellar, retired Los Angeles police officer and current chairman of the Canyon Country Committee of the SCV Chamber of Commerce, which has been talking to the 51st Agricultural District about moving the Valley Fair from Burbank to Santa Clarita.

"I think it's a tremendous opportunity. A new fairgrounds would give us a place to hold activities that we otherwise have to travel outside the valley for," Kellar says.

The agricultural district, one of 54 in the state, covers the San Fernando Valley and portions of the Santa Clarita Valley north to Gorman. Its primary purpose is to run an annual fair, much like county fairs of old. Agricultural district fairs teach youngsters about California's farming and livestock industries through hands-on demonstrations and contests.

The local district board voted last month to explore the possibility of building a permanent fairgrounds in Santa Clarita. The current leased facilities at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center are stifling the fair's ability to grow, officials say.

"The equestrian center controls the concessions, and that limits the type of fair we can put on," says Bob Scott, a district board member and Los Angeles city planning commissioner. "It would be particularly appropriate in the Santa Clarita Valley, with all the farming that has gone on there over the years. The fair helps preserve a way of life."

Education is what the fair is all about, district manager Dale Coons says. "California is the number one agriculture state, and we want every child and adult to know that. We have to educate our children about growing food and eating healthy. A lot of children don't understand where their food comes from. A child once told me he had never touched an animal until he came to our fair."

At the fair, children from the Future Farmers of America, 4-H and Grange compete in livestock and agricultural exhibitions. "We have a complete livestock department and auction with everything from turkeys to steers. We have home arts displays, with jellies, jams, quilts, crafts and baking. We have industrial technology exhibits -- drafting and engineering -- and the scientists from Jet Propulsion Laboratory come out and show the public what they do."

Coons says the fair primarily targets families. She seemed somewhat bewildered when told of the fear that the fair could attract gang-bangers to Santa Clarita.

"In the six years I've been manager, there has never been one single gang problem, and I don't know how many other events that attract 50,000 people over a four-day period can say that," Coons says. "The absolute worst incident we ever had was when five or six animal rights activists protested outside our rodeo."

Because the current fairgrounds border Burbank, Glendale and Los Angeles, Coons is able to use on- and off-duty law enforcement personnel from each of those cities and the Sheriff's department to patrol the fair. "We've always had 100 percent cooperation from (the police), and we will work with law enforcement wherever we are located."

If the city and chamber play their cards right, the new location could be Santa Clarita. Coons envisions a joint powers authority to finance a park-like fairgrounds that would be available for the community to use during the majority of the year when the fair isn't running. And that's something Bob Kellar is really looking forward to.

"If the cost can be overcome and a suitable location can be found, there would be so many exciting opportunities for using the facility throughout the year," Kellar says. "It could be used for outdoor theater. We could have home shows. It could certainly be a new home for Frontier Days, if appropriate."

Coons says negotiations are in the very earliest stages and that there has been no discussion of a specific location in the Santa Clarita Valley. Kellar, however, has some ideas along that line.

"There are some parcels at the eastern extremity of the city that might be suitable," Kellar says. "Perhaps we could find something like the river bottom where we used to have Frontier Days. Having it on the eastern side of town would balance things out with the other family activities on the west."

I miss Frontier Days. How about you?

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Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident. His commentary appears on Wednesdays.

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