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L.A. County Fair chief Miguel Santana is stepping down

Fairplex chief Miguel Santana in 2017
Miguel Santana, who took over in 2017 as president and CEO of the Fairplex in Pomona, is not seeking an extension of his four-year contract.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Miguel Santana, the former Los Angeles city administrator who took on the task of overhauling the financially troubled nonprofit that runs the annual county fair in Pomona, has announced that he won’t seek an extension of his four-year contract at the Fairplex.

Santana started as president and chief executive of the Los Angeles County Fair Assn., which manages the Fairplex, in January 2017. He said the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the organization played a role in his decision, as did his plans for his future.

In May, the pandemic forced Santana to announce the cancellation of the 2020 Los Angeles County Fair for the first time since World War II. He said the Fairplex’s strained budget would benefit from cutting his salary, which started in 2017 at $485,000, with opportunities for 10% bonuses. After the pandemic hit, he and his staff cut their salaries by as much as 25%.

Santana said he now wants to focus his attention on issues of equity in Los Angeles.

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“I hope my next job allows me to do that,” he said, adding that he has no position lined up.

In a letter to Los Angeles County Fair Assn. Chairwoman Heidi Hanson, Santana suggested that the nine-member board that oversees the 500-acre facility in Pomona needs to figure out its priorities, given that the pandemic has made the viability of public events questionable for the near future. But in an interview, he said his decision to leave the Fairplex “was not based on any conflict with me and the board.”

Hanson responded to Santana’s announcement with a letter to association members, praising him for his leadership in improving relations with the fairground’s neighbors and developing a long-term strategic plan for the facility.

That plan, released in 2018, proposed lower entrance prices, more music and food events, a solution for the traffic problems that annoy neighbors during big events at the facility and a green belt with a bike path, among other changes. Santana also pushed to draw more young people to the fair.

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The plan, a nonbinding vision that has been approved by the fair association’s board, can proceed without Santana. Hanson said this month that it “sets the framework for the organization … into our next 100 years.”

Santana, who previously served as Los Angeles city administrative officer, replaced the Fairplex’s previous top executive, James Henwood Jr., who stepped down in 2016 after The Times reported on the lucrative pay and benefits he and other association executives received.

The fair association’s tax reports show that the nonprofit has operated in the red since 2010 but had gradually reduced its deficit and reported a small operating profit of $611,000 in 2018. Its 2019 financial report has yet to be made public, but Santana said the Fairplex ran a deficit last year.


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