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Annual Fair to Go On Despite Low Turnout


In spite of low attendance at the San Fernando Valley Fair last week, local and state organizers said Monday that they had no intention of discontinuing the annual event.

"The Agricultural District has a mandate to provide these kinds of celebrations on an annual basis," said Ted Nauman, spokesman for the 51st Agricultural District, which sponsors the fair. "This is not about making money."

By midafternoon Sunday, the best day, attendance reached only 3,000. Nauman had not added up the figures for all five days, but fair officials said attendance was below the 50,000 projected earlier. This was despite the additions this year of a carnival, midway and live entertainment.

Nauman blamed the Valley's hot weather for the low attendance.

This is the second year attendance has fallen below expected figures. In 1988--the last year the fair was held at Devonshire Downs--60,000 attended. Last year, only 30,000 people turned out for a smaller, three-day fair that was also held at Hansen Dam.

Dave Terrill, a consultant with the state's Fair and Expositions Division, said slumps in fair attendance are a common occurrence.

"Of the 16 fairs that have reported this year, 11 were up and five were down," he said, referring to fairs held throughout California.

The state views fairs as an integral part of any community, Terrill said, and will continue to hold them regardless of attendance figures.

"You may have other events in the community where people come together--a circus comes to town, a high school graduation," Terrill said. "But the fair is the only event that says, 'This is us. This is what we are. This is what we do.' Basically it's a continuation of the culture of the community."

The history of state-sponsored fairs reaches back to 1933, Terrill said. That year, state legislation was passed that legalized parimutuel betting at race tracks and mandated that a certain percentage of revenues must go to finance fairs. Parimutuel betting is a system of betting in which those who have bet on the winner share the total amount wagered.

After the legislation was passed, state agencies known as agricultural districts were formed--54 in all--to organize and plan local fairs in areas throughout California.

"Over the years, we've grown to the point where we have 80 fairs that we oversee," Terrill said.

In addition to the money from horse racing, organizers seek corporate sponsors and rely on revenues from ticket sales, concessions and rides at fairs. Some districts rent fair property to other organizations holding events, Terrill said.

In spite of the low turnout, Nauman said the number of exhibits was up this year and that he was encouraged by the support from the Hansen Dam-area residents in the bid to make the area the fair's permanent home.

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