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Fair Board Gives Green Light to Ventura Track

County panel extends raceway's contract for one year despite objections to the noise. Fate of fairgrounds director, however, remains in doubt.

November 27, 2002|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

Amid the cheers of racing fans, the Ventura County Fair Board voted unanimously Tuesday to let the Ventura Raceway operate for at least another year, despite complaints over noise from downtown residents and business owners.

The future of the fair's executive director, however, was less clear. After a two-hour, closed session, the board disclosed that it would not immediately terminate Roger Gibbs, who was suspended without public explanation Nov. 12. He will remain on paid leave until a final decision is made at the board's meeting Dec. 17.

Played out before a passionate crowd of about 50 raceway supporters and fair volunteers, the issues are among the hottest in recent memory to beset the fair board, ordinarily a tranquil political backwater that governs use of the county fairgrounds at Seaside Park.

Former Ventura Mayor Greg Carson, the board's president, has been reluctant to support the raceway's contract renewal, saying better uses could be found for the property.

At Tuesday's meeting, downtown resident Rick Lyons invited raceway supporters to his hillside condominium so they could hear the noise for themselves.

"I can't use the balcony," he said. "If I have a dinner party, I have to keep the windows shut. It's the type of noise that's out there; it's not music -- it's not anything but annoying."

But Lyons said he was pleased by raceway director Jim Naylor's promise to curb the commotion further in the next year with high-tech mufflers, a 10 p.m. curfew and other measures.

Three people spoke against the raceway. Others lauded it as a living piece of Ventura history and said a group called Save Ventura Raceway had gathered 15,000 signatures in its defense.

"Auto racing is as much a part of Southern California as surfing and skateboarding," said former Ventura Mayor Jack Tingstrom.

Whether the raceway will face similar difficulties when the contract comes up for renewal again next year may hinge on whether it is included in a master plan to guide future uses of Seaside Park. Dozens of racing fans stuck around with fair volunteers to put in a good word for Gibbs, who has been Seaside Park's director for three years.

Although fair board members have been silent on Gibbs' suspension, several said they were upset that other board members had not consulted them before suspending him.

On Tuesday, Gibbs offered a brief statement, saying he had come to Ventura to "live a dream" and had planned to keep the job for about five years before retiring. He said he had enjoyed a good rapport with various boards and wanted a chance to reach an understanding with board members.

"I've been able to do this for 32 years," he said, "and I should be able to do it for a few more."

Gibbs' attorney, Jonathan Light, faulted the board for allegedly failing to give his client proper notice of his suspension. He said board members have refused to outline their reasons.

Board members have not publicly discussed Gibbs, calling his suspension a personnel matter.

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