Pictured: Youth Livestock auction hosted by 805AgKids at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, Aug. 2021. Photo courtesy of 805AgKids. 

by Kimberly Rivers

At the Sept. 28 public meeting of the Ventura County Fair Board, over 100 people were in attendance. Some were unable to login because the online attendance was at capacity for the fair’s account. 

The two hot button topics drawing such interest were gun shows, and setting dates for the 2022 fair. 

Gun show ok’d, but no ghost guns

The Ventura County Fair Board has voted to move forward with a gun show scheduled for Oct. 23-24 with Utah-based Crossroads of the West Gun Shows. 

Online correction: The authorized gun show was not already part of an existing contract, according to Barbara Quaid, executive director of the fairgrounds. She explained the fair board authorizes each gun show individually and has a “policy” allowing that. The board does not approve contracts that include multiple shows she said. 

Many board members commented that they want to have their existing policy that allows gun shows to be on a future meeting agenda, as the board has been advised they would need to alter that policy prior to banning gun shows or canceling existing contracts. According to statements made by Board Chair Leslie Cornejo, the board has been told by state legal counsel in the Department of Agriculture that such actions could put it in legal jeopardy. 

A gun kit, commonly called a “ghost gun” that was purchased at a California Gun show. Photo by Brady United.

At an executive committee meeting on Sept. 23, board members commented on state legislation, noting that it would be easier for the board if the state would pass legislation banning gun shows on state property. In that instance, the board wouldn’t have to be subject to increased liability. 

That legislation, Senate Bill 264, became law on Oct. 8. 

As originally written, SB264 would have banned gun shows on all state-owned property, such as the fairgrounds. There was a last minute amendment to the bill, however, that limited its scope to apply only to the Orange County FairGrounds. Still, analysts say the bill sets a precedent for how to stop gun shows on fairground property. 

The Ventura County gun show was authorized with a few caveats, including the banning of what are popularly called “ghost guns” and “do-it-yourself kits.” These kits and parts allow a person to assemble a gun that does not have a serial number, can be sold without the required background checks and is essentially untraceable. It can also be assembled by a person who is prohibited from owning a gun at all. These kits can be purchased online, and companies selling them state on their websites that they are not “selling firearms” and that the purchaser is responsible for knowing their state’s firearms purchasing laws. 

Michael Bradbury, Ventura County Fair board member and former elected Ventura County District Attorney (1979-2003), made the motion to allow the gun show to proceed, but to prohibit the sale of these untraceable parts and kits. 

Crossroads of the West states on its website that no guns purchased at a gun show in California can leave the building because of the required background checks and waiting periods. But these partially assembled, incomplete sets in kit form can be carried out. According to Brady United, a national gun reform organization with a Ventura County chapter, the kits require the purchaser to simply drill a few holes (drill bits are provided) and that the guns can easily be assembled in as little as 30 minutes. 

Bradbury’s motion passed 5 to 3, with a second motion passing unanimously to bring forward the gun show policy for review and a vote at a future meeting. 

No 2022 fair dates yet

At the conclusion of the Sept. 28 meeting, Bradbury stated that the board needed to make an effort to win back the trust of the public that has expressed a feeling of not being heard. 

This feeling was evident throughout the meeting, as some on the board accused members of the public of  “fear mongering” and spreading “misinformation” on social media regarding the possibility of dates for the Ventura County Fair being moved later into the summer or even October. 

“The comments by directors about fear mongering and misinformation are extremely disappointing,” said Megan Hook, one of the founders of 805AgKids, an organization formed to ensure that youth livestock auctions took place even during the pandemic. She was speaking with the Ventura County Reporter after the meeting. “The public should not be scolded for voicing their opinion. It discourages people from making public comments, defeating the purpose of public meetings.”

Parents of students who are participating in the youth livestock auction and the breeders of various livestock animals implored the board to keep the dates consistent with past years and to set dates as soon as possible, because animals have already been bred and are already pregnant. 

Fairground CEO Barbara Quaid has requested “flexibility” in setting the 2022 dates, a request which will require the board to vote to change existing policy, which states that the fair “shall be 12 days long during the month of July/August.” 

Quaid defended the need for flexibility, saying the fair circuit in the region is a route for vendors who move from one to the other and she wants to make sure those vendors are able to attend. 

Talking with the Ventura County Reporter on Oct. 12, Quaid clarified that fair dates in October or later were “never considered” and that a conversation mentioning that at one time the fair took place in October was just that, a conversation. The flexibility she is seeking is to ensure that all departments and “business partners” are considered. 

Parents of youth livestock raisers, breeders and community members questioned this rationale, saying that local vendors could be tapped if needed and that the priority should be local youth: If the fair is moved much later, many kids could not attend due to school and other commitments. 

A fair date taking place when school is in session was particularly concerning to parents in light of the pandemic and what kids have experienced over the past 18+ months. Parents said children couldn’t possibly miss any more school, nor should the board expect maximum fair attendance if school is in session. Such a change, some said, would likely decrease the fair’s income overall. 

“This community is invested in the Ventura County Fair, from photo submissions in the photography building to raising animals for the junior livestock auction, the joy of carnival wristband days and the talent of youth building art,” said Hook. When asked about what the futures looks like for the youth livestock events at the fair, she responded, “We’re not sure what Barbara Quaid is planning on doing with the livestock department. She won’t tell us, so we’re left to guess. Based on some of her comments like ‘we may look at doing some of those events prior to fair dates,’ our concern is that she’ll remove livestock from the fair.” If that’s the case, Hook said, “our local 4H, FFA [ Future Farmers of America], Grange and independent ag kids won’t get to be a part of the yearly tradition [of the fair]. I think the public would really miss having the animals there, too.” 

“The livestock department is absolutely a priority for us,” said Quaid. When pressed about her comments about the livestock events taking place at a differnt time, she said “anything is possible.” She noted that other counties have experimented with having livestock events outside of fair dates. “It worked for some, but not for others…our livestock events are very important to us, it is a matter of making it work within the dates [of the fair].”

Quaid also emphasized that it’s normal for the dates to be finalized during the October meeting of the fair board. She confirmed that she will have recommended dates for 2022 at the Oct. 26 fair board meeting.

“Local family and business names are literally carved into the bricks that lead up to those fair gates,” said Hook. “This same community just wants to be heard. And if the public comments at the Sept. 28 board of directors meeting are any indication, this community wants their Ventura County Fair back in August and resembling the fair we all love so much.”