If you thought the crowds at the California State Fair seemed thinner this year, you were right – fair attendance in 2018 was the lowest it’s been in at least the last 20 years, Cal Expo data show.
Cal Expo received 572,250 visits over 17 days throughout July, a big drop from last year’s 636,628, and 27 percent fewer than in 2015, when fair attendance was the highest since Cal Expo began electronically tracking visits in 2009.
Extreme heat for more than half of the fair, including temperatures over 100 degrees on days when kids under 12 received free admission, contributed to the decline in attendance, State Fair spokeswoman Sabrina Washington said.
“Our two hottest days were on Tuesdays, which are typically our kids (enter) free days,” she said. “Usually that’s a day where a lot of families would come out. But if it’s triple digits, people will stay home, and we totally understand that.”
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To combat the extreme temperatures, Washington said, the fair set up fans with misters and air-conditioned buildings at 20 spots around the fair for attendees to cool off during the day.
“I always hate that there’s this emphasis placed on numbers, because numbers aren’t a true dictation of” a fair’s success, she said. “Every night, I would walk around the fairgrounds and it was just really lovely. The weather was really beautiful and people wouldn’t want to leave.”
Washington said the weekends were still as busy as ever, and noted that the fair’s ride provider, Butler Amusements, reported its three largest ride days ever across all its fairs and festivals during the last two Saturdays and final Sunday of the State Fair.
Arrests were much rarer in 2018 than in past years, according to statistics provided by Cal Expo Acting Police Chief Everest Robillard. Fair police arrested just 12 people – one arrest was a detention only – compared to an average of 66 arrested each year between 2009 and 2017, according to crime data.
On opening night, 10 people were ejected and shots were heard outside Cal Expo grounds in the evening, Robillard said. That incident was still tamer than last year’s opening night, when a fight broke out inside the fair, 60 people were ejected, admissions gates were closed early, a police officer broke her leg escorting someone out of the fair, and eight people were arrested.
Robillard, who took charge of security at the Cal Expo in June, told The Sacramento Bee before the fair started that he planned to enlist hallway monitors from local schools who are adept at communicating with young people.
“My initial concept is, if some juveniles or young adults are engaging in disruptive behavior, we’re going to ask those community members to make the first contact,” he said.
Washington said 96 percent of fairgoers surveyed during the final weekend reported feeling safe during their visit.
“Our law enforcement personnel engaged with a public in a new way this year; most nights of the California State Fair, the public was invited to feed the police horse and K-9s and sit on the police motorcycles,” she said. “We are really, really happy with the way it turned out. It was really quiet, really peaceful. Really low in terms of incidents that we had.”