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Strawberry Festival, other April events canceled at Fairpark; part-time employees laid off

Strawberry Festival, other April events canceled at Fairpark; part-time employees laid off

State officials on Friday canceled all April events at the Santa Maria Fairpark, including the annual Strawberry Festival, prompting the layoffs of dozens of part-time employees following Gov. Gavin Newsom's shelter-at-home order Thursday.

The cancellations were authorized by the 37th District Agricultural Association, a state agency that operates the Fairpark, after the order that prohibits all "nonessential" businesses and services in response to the coronavirus.

The Santa Maria Strawberry Festival, which was originally scheduled for April 24 through 26, most likely will be rescheduled for October, according to Fairpark spokeswoman Shelly Cone. 

Fairpark CEO Richard Persons said the coronavirus outbreak has been especially difficult for staff and called the festival's cancellation "devastating."

Up to 40 Fairpark staff members — including nearly all part-time and weekend security, event staff, parking lot, janitorial and office staff — were laid off as a result of the cancellations, according to Cone. 

Fairpark employment accounted for at least 30 hours of work per week for some of those laid off, Persons said. 

Seven full-time Fairpark office workers will begin working a staggered schedule with reduced hours Monday as they practice social distancing and avoid gatherings in offices, the conference room or break room, Cone said. 

Three maintenance employees will continue to work on solitary projects around the 35-acre Fairpark. 

"We've been trying to balance personal safety for staff members with continuing to provide service to the community," Persons said. "The part-time staff that works our many events is extremely dedicated and hardworking, and it is heartbreaking to have to tell them we won't have any work for them until the prohibition against gatherings has been lifted."

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Individuals and businesses that reserved booth space at the Strawberry Festival will have their rental fees credited toward their Santa Barbara County Fair spaces. 

Additionally, promoters of other events that had been scheduled in April have been rescheduled to later dates, Cone said. 

March events at the Fairpark were canceled prior to April's cancellations, marking 60 days without events at the facility, Persons said. 

Preparations for the Santa Barbara County Fair, held from July 15 through 19, are still underway, however, as well as planning for all May events, Cone said. 

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