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Fair Hoping for Greener Pastures Back in Valley

June 03, 2004|Karima A. Haynes | Times Staff Writer

After pitching its tent in three different communities during the last four years, the San Fernando Valley Fair returns today to the Hansen Dam Recreation Area, where organizers hope to improve flagging attendance.

The 58th edition of the fair, which runs through Sunday, is expected to draw more than 60,000 people to its traditional assortment of carnival rides, concessions and horticultural, livestock and home arts competitions, organizers said.

Planners hope their yearlong, multimedia outreach campaign to solicit participation from schools, nonprofit organizations and small businesses will lure more visitors to the summer event that has experienced wide fluctuations in attendance in recent years.

Paid attendance plummeted from 20,000 to 10,000 after the state-funded event moved from Hansen Dam to Castaic Lake last year, said officials, who attributed the decline to the shift to a site outside the San Fernando Valley.

Organizers are counting on Latin R&B band Tierra, prize-winning livestock -- including a half-ton pig -- and huge vegetables to attract visitors from Los Angeles and Ventura counties to Hansen Dam in the northeast Valley.

"It's called the San Fernando Valley Fair for a reason," said Catherine Garcia, the fair's chief executive. "Obviously, the community speaks by its attendance. We got the message that it needed to come home."

Longtime food vendor Barry Wittenberg, who was setting up corn-roasting equipment Wednesday, said the fair's long-term success depends on securing a permanent location.

"Until the fair gets a permanent place to call home, it will be hard to get the public to support it," said Wittenberg, who has been working the fair circuit since 1987.An attempt to establish permanent fairgrounds four years ago in an equestrian center at the Hansen Dam Recreation Area was rejected by residents who complained that events proposed on non-fair weekends would diminish the quality of life in the mostly rural area.

Even so, Garcia said California's 51st District Agricultural Assn., which sponsors the fair, remains undeterred in finding a permanent site in the Valley.

"We're not going to go out of the Valley. We are not going to keep floating around," she said, while acknowledging that the board of directors has yet to secure a location for next year.

"The fair is home now," she said. "We're back and that's very heartwarming."

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