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Talk About Secret Moves

Published: October 8, 2010 2:48 pm ET

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When the CEO of a racetrack has to read about sale of his track in the local newspaper, one wonders about talk of transparency in government. That was the situation in Del Mar, where CEO Joe Harper and presumably others read about the reported sale of the seashore track to the city of Del Mar for a reported bargain basement price of $120 million.

The proposed sale, which drew immediate criticism, includes 350 acres of prime property. The San Diego Union, which broke the story, said top secret negotiations had been ongoing for months, but surfaced Wednesday when a bill was introduced in Sacramento and then pulled when it faced failure to gain the two-thirds majority vote needed to pass.

One member of the San Diego area legislative group, assemblyman Martin Garrick, said, “Del Mar is a treasure located in an irreplaceable location. This bill was rushed through at the last moment, without going through the competitive bidding process and not seeing daylight like it needed to.”

The mayor of Del Mar, Richard Earnest, said the city council backed the idea unanimously, and would “like to make it a first-class facility for horses and agriculture.” That statement also must have surprised Joe Harper, along with others that have built Del Mar into the Saratoga of the west.

Continuing the deep dark secrecy, the state did an appraisal but did not share it with the city. The president of the fair board that controls Del Mar said he had heard figures as high as $800 million to a billion as the value of the property instead of the $120 million now offered.

The mayor acknowledged much debate ahead, saying, “Stay tuned. We got a lot to talk about in the coming weeks.”

(Harness Tracks of America)

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