Legislators to Debate Fate of OC Fairgrounds

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 | While the drama of the Orange County Fairgrounds sale arrives at a Santa Ana courtroom on Friday, Sacramento leaders will have a unique chance earlier in the week to vote on the future of the iconic property.

They could even send judges and the governor a critically timed message by potentially endorsing a revenue sharing plan instead of a sale.

At a state legislative appropriations hearing on Wednesday, two key foes -- activists with the OC Fairgrounds Preservation Society and the Orange County Fair Board -- will find themselves on the same side: opposing the sale.

State Assemblyman Jose Solorio said his bill, AB35, simply calls on the governor to begin exploring revenue sharing on the fairgrounds instead of a sale.

Solorio said in addition to pushing the revenue-sharing ideal, his legislation "has created an ongoing forum in the legislature for us to inform members from other areas with the current fairgrounds sale."

"These are real votes from the legislature on the subject matter itself, that's a powerful thing," Solorio said.

Meanwhile, Facilities Management West -- the company attempting to finalize the $100 million purchase deal negotiated at the eleventh hour of the Schwarzenegger administration -- is calling on legislators to stay on the sidelines.

"Anyone thinking of doing business with the state should take pause by the effort underway, almost two years into a complicated and costly process, to cancel this sale in the eleventh hour," said FMW spokesman Guy Lemmon.

Lemmon took critical aim at both Senator Correa and Assemblyman saying legislation and petitions are ill timed.

"To cancel the sale -- on the eve of a significant appellate court hearing, and with no credible option -- would be a breach of faith and trust, and leave the state, and Orange County's local governments and schools without the significant and ongoing

revenue that this sale to FMW would achieve," Lemmon said.

Even though FMW has severely criticized a revenue-sharing proposal (AB35 ) proposed by Solorio, opponents of the sale say it's giving them a legislative channel for their efforts to educate state leaders on the downsides of a sale.

"It is the most convenient vehicle legislatively to continue moving through our effort to stop the sale," said Theresa Sears, a founding activist with the fairgrounds preservation society.

And even though Sears notes that her group has rarely agreed with the governor's fair board in Orange County, she said they are supporting the revenue sharing plan because of it's importance to the state's fairgrounds.

There is talk among Brown administration officials to end public subsidies for fairgrounds. Even though large metro area fairgrounds, like in Orange County, are self-sufficient, smaller fairs across the state still need a subsidy.

Revenue sharing could be a way to keep public ownership but ease the burden on taxpayers, Sears said.

"There needs to be a plan to save the fairs," Sears said. "It's a policy issue that has to be decided by the governor."

Officials with Orange County's 32nd District Agricultural Association (which runs the OC Fair) have proposed a series of revenue sharing deals to the state in recent years.

That group was one of the first to raise the issue of a privatization (to a nonprofit) back in 2009. Widespread public opposition along with investigative inquiries caused the fair board to abandon the plan.

That plan eventually morphed into a full-fledged sale, which then triggered an odd public auctioning process that FMW eventually won.

Please contact Norberto Santana, Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosantana. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.

 

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