The Alameda County Fair opens Friday for an extended 20-day run. That's good news for the hundreds of thousands of fair-goers and horse-racing fans expected to be here this year and for Pleasanton businesses and nonprofits and even city taxpayers who benefit from this annual event.
The fair and the fairgrounds are celebrated amenities for our local community and a great regional draw that brings people to Pleasanton.
The county fair itself, which started in 1912, is engrained in the fabric of our community in the same way that our historic downtown is reflective of our community identity. "It celebrates the past, but also brings residents and visitors alike to celebrate Pleasanton's diverse offerings of leisure, great food and entertainment," City Manager Nelson Fialho said.
Both the fair and the fairgrounds are also good for taxpayers. Tina Olson, the city's director of finance, reports that in calendar year 2016, Pleasanton received $786,068 in tax revenues from sales generated in the fairgrounds. The third quarter of the year, when most of the county fair took place, generated $235,350.
The fairgrounds also generates other, less direct economic impacts to the city such as hotel and sales taxes associated with fairgrounds visitors who stay in Pleasanton hotels, eat in Pleasanton restaurants, shop in Pleasanton and buy gas in Pleasanton -- who would otherwise not do so if they weren't visiting the fairgrounds.
There's also a cost. The fair creates more work for the Pleasanton Police Department. Chief Dave Spiller says calls for service increase and community activity associated with the county fair impacts law enforcement operations, particularly traffic management and the off-property parking of fair-goers. But police work effectively in partnership with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office to support fair operations and lessen impacts to Pleasanton residents and businesses.
The fair is operated by the nonprofit Fair Association without any tax funding from the government. It is ranked one of the top 50 North American fairs and the seventh largest fair in California. The fairgrounds also is home to the oldest one-mile race track in America.
A lot has changed since the first Pleasanton fair 105 years ago. Horse racing was already here. The idea for holding a county fair on that property came from the businessman who had purchased the Bernal family racetrack.
The "modern fair" began in 1939, according to "Celebrating Family Fun at the County Fair," written by Pat and Bob Lane to celebrate the 90th birthday of the fair in 2002. That year the fair included a carnival, with four rides, 20 games and concessions.
Today, the abundance of rides includes games and food booths all along the midway, with a variety of other attractions in the air-conditioned exhibit centers. Kids can ride sheep bareback or zoom down a waterslide. There are free concerts nightly with a fireworks show starting at nightfall on July 4, featuring the Oakland East Bay Symphony.
Still, some things stay the same. Horse racing continues as a big draw, with races starting next Thursday. Other features of the first fair also live on, such as the judging of farm stock. There's even a return to the old days with a live cattle drive Friday morning down Main Street, featuring a team of 60 riders and 150 steers. Then it's off to the fair, which opens at 11 a.m.