TAKING STOCK OF CONTROVERSY PIGS, SHEEP, GEESE TOLD TO SCURRY FROM VALLEY FAIR, DRAWING OUTRAGE.
First, the Valley Fair lost its site. Now, the show has lost its animals.
The agricultural expo, which relocated from the San Fernando Valley to Saugus Speedway in March to increase profits, told livestock exhibitors this week that they will not be a part of the four-day event that begins June 7 because housing animals is too expensive.
Instead, they've been offered an alternate venue at Pierce College, where the 100 entrants can showcase and sell their animals.
At a rancorous meeting of the fair's livestock committee Monday night, the message did not go over well.
"What is the fair doing to promote agriculture?" demanded Jessie White, agriculture chair for Los Angeles County 4-H.
"We're having a livestock show," replied Bill Lander, the soft-spoken fair board director who endured the brunt of the meeting's criticism.
"Yeah, but it's not at the fair!" White hollered. "Having the Budweiser Clydesdales does not count as having agriculture!"
After a March contract dispute with the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks over a proposed move to Woodley Park in Encino, the fair board voted not to return to the Hansen Dam site used in 2006. The event drew a scant 14,000 over several days last year, a figure the board hoped to easily exceed in Saugus.
But the Speedway, presented at the time as the fiscally responsible alternative, proved to be too expensive for cows and geese.
According to figures presented at the meeting, the fair expects to incur expenses of $45,900 to show livestock there. If it holds the show at Pierce, it would cost only $22,700.
The impassioned livestock committee attacked the listed costs, calling them inflated and volunteering to make up the difference themselves. They also offered expletives, table-pounding and the threat of a lawsuit.
Many students who have raised animals to enter in the competition and auction already notified buyers of the Saugus location.
Members of the volunteer committee said moving them would drive away buyers, isolate fair patrons from the popular animal areas and kill the atmosphere associated with the 61-year-old event, officially known as the 51st District Agricultural Association.
"I don't like the arrangement any more than you guys," Lander told the group. "If we want to save the livestock, we're going to have to work together."
Lander and fellow board member Dennis De Young expressed sympathy for the assembled body but said they'd been instructed by board President David Honda to move the animals to Pierce.
They pledged to try to assemble the other board members for a meeting so the livestock group could plead its case, but doubted it could do it in time to make a difference.
The cantankerous committee laid into Honda and CEO Catherine Garcia, whom they claimed were inaccessible and kept them out of the loop. Honda was traveling in Japan and was unavailable for comment, and Garcia did not return phone calls seeking comment.
In early March, when Honda and Garcia were fighting to keep the fair at Woodley Park, supporters addressed the Los Angeles City Council and conjured up images of kids playing among sheep and chickens. One family brought a rabbit that was hoisted up in council chambers as an example of good old-fashioned family fun.
"They asked for the kids' help; now they've eliminated the kids," said Ken Keeble, a member of the committee and the Reseda Grange. "The kids thought they'd be showing, they entered by the rules and now, 30 days before the event, they're told they won't have a place at the fair."
Councilman Tony Cardenas, targeted by the fair board in its March dust-up over the move to Woodley, took the criticism a step further. He plans to ask state legislators to audit the fair's operations.
"It just goes to show the Valley Fair is really mismanaged," he said. "They had a great opportunity. There's been $70,000 put into Hansen Dam to upgrade the animal facilities.
"They abandoned the San Fernando Valley and now they've abandoned the kids, too."
At Canoga Park High School -- home to an agricultural magnet program, the Future Farmers of America and a sizable animal population -- the kids weren't talking politics Tuesday. They were talking about their pigs and sheep, carefully groomed and tended, with plans to show at the fair.
In a yard not far from the football field, Beshoy Halim, a 14-year-old freshman from Canoga Park, struggled with classmate Ashlee LaFoe to corral a pair of pigs. He used a plastic board to guide the 200-pound Pigothy onto a scale while she took Knucklehead for a walk.
They spend three hours a week walking the animals, alternating feed duties with their fellow students. For months, they've raised the animals for a fair that can no longer accommodate them.
"I'm sort of disappointed, because I'm afraid it won't go so well," Halim said. "Hopefully, it'll all go smoothly and I can find a buyer."
City Councilman Richard Alarcon, who helped lead efforts to bring the fair back to the Valley from Castaic Lake in 2003 when he was a state senator, blasted the board leadership. He called on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to shake up the nine-member board and suggested planning a new event next year unconnected to the existing fair.
"They're defeating the purpose of the fair," he said. "The whole idea is to promote agricultural interest. Now, it's essentially a carnival that you could go to at any local grocery store."
So the kids who have invested hundreds of dollars and months of time in raising the animals won't be left hanging, Derek L. Tabone, who chairs the livestock committee, suggested the animal backers buy each others' stock above market price.
While frustrated with the decision to move to Pierce, he said exhibitors should plan for a show there in the event a compromise can't be reached.
That wasn't good enough for a few of the more militant committee members, who during the meeting proposed arriving uninvited at Saugus, animals in tow.
"I'm thinking that civil disobedience over a steer isn't a real good reason to go to jail," counseled Tabone, a Van Nuys attorney by day.
"But this is the death of a way of life!" screamed one of the dissenters, who'd earlier sent the budget handouts sailing across the room, chased by loud curses.
"No," Tabone said softly. "It's the death of the fair."
2 photos, map
(1 -- color) Ahdee Zeidman, 17, a junior, feeds her sheep at the agriculture magnet program at Canoga Park High School.
(2) Beshoy Halim, 14, tries to get his pig, Pigothy, to move at the agriculture magnet program at Canoga Park High School on Tuesday.
Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer
San Fernando Valley Fair
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||May 16, 2007|
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