“If one vice doesn't work, try another” appears to be the motto of the Del Mar fair board, the gubernatorially appointed body that runs the state's 22nd District Agricultural Association.
After years of dismal financial return from its Surfside Race Place off-track betting emporium — and months of behind-the-scenes controversy over conflicts of interest — the board earlier this week voted 5 to 1 to issue a request for proposals to turn the pseudo Spanish Revival complex into a super-sized brewpub and wedding venue.
The saga first went public in February when Premier Food Services, the fair's food vendor, pushed for an ultimately ill-fated proposal to set up a microbrewery in partnership with booze behemoth MillerCoors and its Blue Moon craft-beer brand.
That idea didn't sit well with fair director David Lizerbram, appointed to the board in August of 2011 by governor Jerry Brown. Lizerbram's father Sol, a Rancho Santa Fe osteopath as well as big-time political donor and entrepreneur, was friends with Richard Silberman, Brown's onetime top aide and later husband of GOP San Diego mayor Susan Golding before being caught by an FBI money-laundering sting and packed off to federal prison.
“I consider myself an advocate for San Diego businesses in general and craft beer in particular,” the younger Lizerbram was quoted by U-T San Diego as saying about his opposition to the Blue Moon deal.
“When the proposal was presented, it involved several elements, including a prominent sponsorship from Blue Moon. I thought it might be a missed opportunity (to promote local brewers) and not looked at favorably by the local industry.”
After months of quiet wrangling, the fair board was set to consider a final draft of the latest request for pub proposals on Tuesday, September 9. But there remained another matter to be reckoned with first.
Before Tuesday’s vote, Lizerbram, whose website says he is "co-founder of the Craft Beer Association of San Diego, a think tank focused on promoting San Diego County’s dynamic craft beer industry," recused himself and left the meeting.
“We want to do this in a way that passes every smell test,” board chairman Fred Schenk, a Brown appointee whose sister Lynn was a top Brown aide and onetime Silberman political intimate, was quoted by the Del Mar Times as saying about Lizerbram’s departure from the scene.
Del Mar’s solicitation advises would-be bidders they should come clean about potential conflicts.
According to the document, "Prospective Proposers are strongly encouraged to document in writing any known, suspected, or potential conflict of interest with a 22nd DAA director, official, officer or employee and or their immediate family, whether contractual, ownership (including but not limited to any ownership interest in any corporation, partnership, association or other legal entity, or any stock option or other rights pertaining to any such entity), financial or employment related, in or involving this procurement or resulting agreement.
“If any such interest arises at any time during the solicitation period, a full and complete written disclosure should be made immediately to the [fair board]."
That apparently wasn't enough for board member David Watson, also appointed by Brown in 2011, and onetime law partner of San Diego downtown GOP super lobbyist Paul Robinson.
"I think the process is irreparably tainted," said Watson, according to the Del Mar Times account of the meeting. "I don’t see how we can go forward with a micro-brewery at this time."