From the U-T:

The city of Del Mar has struck a preliminary agreement with the state to buy the fairgrounds and fabled racetrack there for $120 million, according to state and local officials.  The deal was reached behind closed doors and only came to light after legislation was introduced late Wednesday to authorize the sale.

“The activities we know and love at the fairgrounds will undoubtedly continue,” said Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, who has been involved in the talks that have gone on quietly for months. “For all intents and purposes it will look and feel the same.”

But under different management.

Barry Nussbaum, a fair board member, said he was stunned by the developments.

“Why this would have to happen in the middle of the night without consulting experts who run this facility is flabbergasting,” he said in a telephone interview.  Nussbaum said the transfer could jeopardize contracts for events, from new races to the fair itself.  “My response is one of complete shock that something like this could happen without publicity, without public input and without consultations with fair staff or the fair board,” he said.

City of Del Mar representatives could not be reached for comment.

Kehoe, in an interview Wednesday night, said she expected the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club to stay on if the deal goes through.

The measure is part of the broader budget agreement that is up for a vote Thursday in the Legislature. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, searching for new revenues, last year proposed selling all kinds of state properties, including the fairgrounds.

At the time, estimates for Del Mar ranged between $400 million and $700 million.

The $120 million would buy the city of Del Mar the 400 acres of prime coastal real estate. Kehoe said one of her goals is to bring control of future development closer to the local level.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association board has unveiled a master plan for a convention center and hotel facilities that has drawn some sharp public criticism. The fair board, as it is known, is appointed by the governor to oversee the state-owned property.

The measure would not necessarily stop the development, Kehoe said. However, she believes by having the city and local entities in charge development would be “more sensitive.”

Kehoe said the transfer would further safeguard the nearby San Dieguito River and the bill includes language that calls for “best efforts” to establish a green belt on its northern bank.

Kehoe does not expect the measure to sail through, given the controversy over the state’s move to shed properties and the local debate.

“It’s going to be a challenging day,” she said.

The city would finance part of deal through $45 million in proceeds from revenue bonds and raising $30 million from leasing the track and satellite wagering facilities, How to pay off the rest would be negotiated with the state.

The legislation also outlines membership to a city-appointed, nonprofit corporation to oversee operations and maintenance.  The panel would include five representatives of the city of Del Mar, plus one each from the cities of Solana Beach and San Diego. San Diego County would have a representative as well.  The legislation authorizes the sale. But a final purchase price and other details must still be hammered out between the state and city.

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