Cal Expo's outgoing chief is correct: It's largely up to Gov. Jerry Brown to reinvigorate the State Fair.
But the challenge is greater than a lack of money. It's also about a lack of vision and imagination.
The leadership of Cal Expo badly needs an infusion of both. By putting the right people in place, the governor has a rare opportunity to secure the fair for generations to come.
Brown isn't showing his hand, but his two most recent appointments to the Cal Expo board are encouraging. They suggest he gets it.
Jeffrey Azoff of Beverly Hills is a big deal in the music business as a senior manager at Front Line Management Group, which bills itself as the world's leading artist management company, with a roster of more than 250. Just think about the buzz from hip, up-and-coming concert acts headlining the fair.
Rima Barkett of Stockton is a chef, former restaurant owner and founder of A Tavola Together, a well-known Italian food and cooking company that has a recipe book and website. Just imagine the bounty from capitalizing even more on the fair's location in the center of the farm-to-table movement.
Brown should be as open-minded in his two remaining board picks. He also needs to be expeditious so that his appointees can have a big say in hiring the next general manager. They need to push for creativity, in addition to expertise running fairs. There's a national search under way, with an application deadline of Nov. 10.
General manager Norb Bartosik, after 20 years, and deputy general manager Brian May, after 24 years, are both retiring as of Dec. 26, but have offered to stay to smooth the transition. If he wants, Brown can appoint May's successor directly.
Bartosik told The Bee's Tony Bizjak that Brown has to save the fair as part of the family legacy. His father, former Gov. Pat Brown, remade it by moving it from Stockton Boulevard to Cal Expo in 1968.
Now, Cal Expo is aging and there's a $50 million maintenance backlog.
Officials say they could generate the money by selling some of the 350-acre fairgrounds, but want legislation to guarantee any proceeds stay with Cal Expo.
The fair is going into its 160th edition next summer. Paid attendance has risen slightly since 2010, when the fair moved its starting date a month earlier to coincide with schools' summer vacation, but remains far below the numbers a decade ago.
With some focused reimagination, the State Fair can still have a place in 21st-century California, uniting our state, celebrating its past, but also pointing to what could be its future.
It's a legacy worth preserving and deserving of the governor's attention.