LYNDEN - Visitors to this year's Northwest Washington Fair saw some new attractions: hot weather, alcohol sales, and an amped-up security policy that drew complaints from at least one group.
Attendance was lower than in recent years, which was likely a result of the high temperatures, said Fair Manager Jim Baron. Total attendance for the six-day fair, open Aug. 13-18, was 203,949. That's down more than 15,000 from last year.
"We had three days this year where the fairgrounds were over 90 degrees," Baron said. "Last year we had no days in the 90s."
According to workers at the fair medic tent, the number of heat-related injuries, including heat stroke and heat exhaustion, were typical for what they would expect on 90-degree days, Baron said.
Also new this year, the Lynden Police Department, Whatcom County Sheriff's Office and private security partnered to handle increased fair security.
Last year, rival Hispanic gangs confronted each other several times throughout the final day of the fair, culminating in a 10 p.m. shooting that left four people wounded. The shooter, 15-year-old Daniel Herrera, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for assault while armed with a deadly weapon. He will be deported after he serves his sentence.
This year's fair had a larger security budget, which included money for better lighting, more video surveillance of the grounds, and more officers on duty. The private nonprofit that runs the fair paid for the officers on patrol.
The fair adopted a ban on anyone known to be affiliated with a gang and, for the most part, officials received an overwhelmingly positive response to the security policy, Baron said.
"The health, safety and the security of our fairgoers is of utmost importance to us," he said. "This year went very smoothly."
Though the numbers aren't completely compiled yet, Lynden Police Chief Jack Foster estimated that less than 10 known gang members were escorted from the fair.
"When you have 30,000 plus people a day at the fair, that's a pretty small number," he said.
Neither Baron nor Foster said they received any complaints about racial profiling during enforcement of the ban.
"Members of all races are members of gangs, to the best of my knowledge," Baron said. "We trespassed only people who had known gang affiliations, not respective of race."
Gang members were identified both from a list compiled by analysts from the sheriff's office and by gang-related tattoos, Foster said.
The fair's policy was to refund anyone who was trespassed from the fairgrounds for what they paid to enter, Baron said.
Not everyone was convinced that the fair's gang-member ban crossed all racial lines, including David Veliz, a Hispanic man from Mount Vernon who was escorted from the fairgrounds and trespassed from the site for a year.
Veliz said he was taking pictures and waiting for his wife to get off the merry-go-round with their three young children when an officer approached him and asked him if he would answer a few questions.
Veliz said he has a criminal history, but said he is not a member of a gang. Veliz said he was told that his tattoos made him look like a gang member and he was asked to leave.
"I don't understand why we have to be punished for something that someone else did last year," Veliz said. "I would understand if I was with a group of guys, and if there was a fight or something, but it didn't seem fair that I was getting kicked out for doing nothing."
Veliz's wife, Lilliana Manrique-Veliz, said several people have shared stories on Facebook about being unfairly targeted and trespassed.
Voices for Equality, a Whatcom County group that organizes marches, is planning a protest for Friday, Aug. 24. Protest organizers plan to meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, at the Bellingham Public Library to make signs and plan the march.
Foster stressed that other than people who committed crimes at the fair or who had warrants for their arrest, the only people trespassed from the fair were known gang members.
"I guarantee you our policy is not to single somebody out by their race," he said.
Baron said that those who were trespassed did not represent only one race.
As for alcohol-related incidents, Baron said there were no troubles with serving alcohol at The Reserve Champion Bistro, the first restaurant to sell alcohol on site at the fair.
"It was all very smooth," Baron said. "Any incidents I heard of were typical: minor in possession and people consuming alcohol off the fairgrounds in the parking lots."
Baron was unsure how many alcohol-related citations were issued at the fair, but estimated the number was average compared to the last decade.
The number of each type of arrest at the fair was unavailable as of Monday, Aug. 20, but Foster said those numbers should be compiled by the end of the week.