Lawmakers, Activists Sue to Stop OC Fairgrounds Sale

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Friday, December 10, 2010 | A coalition featuring three high-ranking Orange County elected officials and local activists today filed suit against the state of California asking a Superior Court judge to block the sale of the OC Fairgrounds.

The elected officials include Democratic State Senator Lou Correa, Democratic State Assemblyman Jose Solorio and Newport Mesa School District Trustee Katrina Foley, who is a former Costa Mesa City Councilwoman. Joining them in the suit is the OC Fairgrounds Preservation Society.

It’s the second lawsuit filed to stop the state from selling the 150-acre fairgrounds in Costa Mesa to a private company, Facilities Management West.

Wylie Aitken, the Orange County attorney who filed the suit, said selling iconic assets like the fairgrounds is bad public policy.

However, he said, the lawsuit’s premise is purposely simple: The state didn’t follow it’s own procedures for involving the state legislature with such a sale.

“The facts are not contradicted,” said Aitken, who is a member of Voice of OC’s board of directors. “They didn’t follow the rules. If we’re right on the law, that they didn’t give proper notice, we win, period.”

In this case, winning means the judge would halt the sale of the fairgrounds.

Aitken expects the elected officials’ lawsuit to be consolidated with existing litigation against the sale filed by a group of fair vendors led by Jeff Teller of Tel Phil Enterprises, Inc. A hearing is expected on Dec. 15.

Spokespeople for both the state Department of General Services and Facilities Management West declined comment on the lawsuit.

Solorio — who was included in early negotiations on selling the fairgrounds — described the whole process as rushed, tailored to help “powerful interests lobbying for government to take certain actions.”

Indeed, much speculation has centered on the lobbying effort by California Strategies and it’s Orange County principal, Gary Hunt, who was also Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign finance chairman. His firm has been hired by FMW to work the sale of the fairgrounds in Sacramento.

Foley, who was involved in early negotiations with the state in her former role as a Costa Mesa City Councilwoman said the whole process has ignored the rule of law.

“We need to get on back on track for the benefit of the citizens instead of private business interests and friends of the governor,” Foley said. “From day one, the whole thing was set up under the cover of darkness.”

Solorio said the sale has broken too many rules and failed to follow any kind of transparent order.

“It’s our understanding that questions have been raised in the first lawsuit about whether the legislature had or didn’t have concerns on the process,” he said. “Well, these are two legislators who are saying yes, there are concerns.”

Correa said the entire process was an insult to taxpayers.

“This sale, just like the $2.1 billion sale of state assets, is a blatant giveaway of taxpayer resources and assets. It’s a fire sale, a blue-light special selling off state resources at a deep discount. And it’s going to cost the state much more in the long run,” Correa said.

In the meantime, “somebody will turn around and make a killing on this property,” Correa said.

“The whole thing just hits me in the gut.”

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