To start from the beginning in May of 2009 Governor Schwarzenegger proposed selling off a number of state properties as another attempt to sheer up the state budget. On the blacklist of sites are the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the San Quentin State Prison, and three state-owned fairgrounds. On Wednesday July 15th, the Orange County Fair Board, who are appointees of the governor, sided with Schwarzenegger and approved a resolution supporting the sale of the property of 190 acres with an estimated commercial value of $180 million dollars.
"We felt that if the state is intent on putting that land up for sale...then we want to identify a way to protect the fair," said Fair Board Chairwoman Julie Vandermost. "We don't want to see any kind of situation where the fair might not survive. . .that would be acceptable."
On July 28th the Orange County Board of Supervisors also approved a resolution supporting Gov. Schwarzenegger's idea to sell the fairgrounds. With the understanding it would be sold to a local government agency or nonprofit organization and forever remain the grounds of a fair that has been an Orange County tradition for sixty years. Supervisor John Moorlach whose district includes the Orange County Fairgrounds which is within the Costa Mesa city limits, said the Fair Board has created a nonprofit to try to buy the land and is waiting for an appraisal. "We've been supportive," Moorlach said, "We've also given them ideas, and we're also happy to assist if they deem it helpful."
However, November 24th after both the Fair Board and Orange County Board of Supervisors approved resolutions supporting the sale; a change of heart came after reading the fine print within the auction documents that said state officials want to maximize their profits, by considering the option of selling the land as something other than fairgrounds. That option is to possibly sell it to a private party for development. State Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) said that many state properties are under-performing and in the hands of a private owner might be busier and generate more sales tax revenues.
After acquiring the information about the state official's possible intent, the county, like the city of Costa Mesa and the Fair Board are exploring their ability to bid for the property as well. "It's creating so much aggravation that the easiest way to keep the fairgrounds a fairgrounds - which was our overarching goal - is just to cancel the sale," Moorlach said. He went on to say, "The Governor doesn't always do what we ask." Since the November repeal of both resolutions for the sale of the grounds by the Fair Board and the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Orange County Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana) in a letter this month to Gov. Schwarzenegger informed the governor of a public hearing he held in Costa Mesa with fellow Assembylman Van Tran (R-Garden Grove) last month convinced him the sale of the property would be a bad idea. In addition, the Costa Mesa City Manager Allan Roeder had this to say, "We're not feeling too good about the Governor today, the City of Costa Mesa is not going to change the zoning and land use of the Orange County Fairgrounds. It's now zoned as open space. And it's our intention to keep it like that."
The city council has said it would not rezone the property ever since State Senator John Campbell proposed selling the fairgrounds in 2004. "I believe the city council would be very solid on keeping it institutional," Mayor Allan Mansoor added. Without rezoning, any private investor wishing to buy the grounds for development would have no prospects for commercial development. That's a far cry from the estimated value in the governor's budge of up to $180 million. Mansoor said he doesn't support selling "the heart of the community" just to balance a budget. "The process for carrying out this sales has been tainted by misinformation, misrepresentations, conflicts of interests, questionable legal and ethical activities, and a potential constitutional barrier regarding the sale of the property," Solorio wrote. With a bidding deadline of January 8th, the Fair Board's nonprofit foundation continues to try and purchase the property, however, they are being met with opposition as local activists do their best to keep the fair from being sold.
Los Angeles Times/Tami Abdollah
The Orange County Register/NORBERTO SANTANA Jr. and BRIAN JOSEPH