Contemplating Fate of the OC Fairgrounds

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As he sits in his corner office, Costa Mesa’s City Manager Alan Roeder this week will be looking out across the street and watching the massive preparations for this year’s annual summer fair.

And he’s wondering whether he’ll ever see that same scene again.

“Bittersweet,” is how Roeder describes watching the preparations for the event, which begins this Friday and runs through August.

For now, machinations on the Fairgrounds’ sale seem to have slowed down as city leaders turn attention to hiking a series of fees and keeping their budget balanced amid historic cuts.

But once this year’s fair is over, the Legislature comes back into session and the governor’s legislation to sell the Fairgrounds is presented, it’s game on. And things are likely to never look the same.

Even though it’s uncertain what, if anything, will ultimately come out of Sacramento.

What is certain is that City Council members will next month be headed up north, lobbying the Legislature to back a $96 million purchase agreement they adopted last month on a 4-1 vote, which was opposed by the council’s only Democrat, Katrina Foley.

With tons of questions about the financial and quality-of-life details in the agreement, council members can also expect a tough reception from more than two-dozen Latino lawmakers who are not happy about the city’s Rule of Law resolution supporting Arizona’s illegal immigration legislation.

“There’s going to be some real tough questions from members of the Legislature,” Roeder said.

How those questions are answered by the city may be decided in private, given that there’s a dissenting vote on the council, Roeder said. He added that city attorneys are reviewing the matter.

Roeder acknowledged that discussing council strategies regarding legislative approval of the fairgrounds sale isn’t necessarily covered by exemptions to the state’s open meetings law because lobbying isn’t a part of real property negotiations.

Or is it?

“That remains to be seen,” Roeder said.

Despite what they decided, city officials should expect to run into the OC Fairgrounds Preservation Society in the hallways of those visits to Sacramento because the activists say they aren’t going away. And they’re lobbying against the deal proposed by Facilities Management West because the joint powers authority set up by the city doesn’t include any meaningful public input.

“We don’t have the transparency we fought for,” said Theresa Sears, an equestrian activist who has become a leader within the preservation society.



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