Riverside county’s Date Festival is getting a $1.6 million lifeline.
The Board of Supervisors reluctantly approved the money to cover losses tied to the Riverside County Fair & Date Festival.
It was one of several budget adjustments requested in a Tuesday, Nov. 17, report on current fiscal year finances, which generally are not in dire condition.
“Overall, revenues are trending better than previously anticipated, although uncertainty remains due to COVID-19,” county CEO George Johnson told the board.
The largest budget adjustment sought by the executive office was the $1.6 million for the Fair & Date Festival in Indio, which was canceled for 2021 due to the public health lockdowns resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
The 120-acre Riverside County Fairgrounds has been set up for possible use as a field hospital since late March and also serves as a coronavirus testing location. The 74th annual Date Festival was staged in mid-February.
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries criticized the expenditure, complaining that even in typical years when the festival is in operation, it’s a money-loser.
“But we have to come up with money to subsidize a large county property that can’t make end’s meet,” Jeffries said. “We really need to figure out where we need to go with this.”
Supervisor Karen Spiegel agreed, saying the fair has been a “great event, but it’s a loss to the county.”
Supervisors Jeff Hewitt and Chuck Washington said the event has been poorly marketed, and its location — in the eastern Coachella Valley — has made it uninviting to residents in more populated areas on the western side of the county.
The Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego County fairs have been profitable because they’re situated in places that draw higher traffic, Washington said.
Spiegel suggested that a nonprofit organization take over the operation to save the county money.
Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, in whose district the fair is located, said he wanted to see the “long-standing tradition, going on for 75 years” continue at the Indio Fairgrounds. However, he also agreed there’s a need to change the way it’s run to save the county money.
Further board discussions are expected next year.