OC Fair Panel Calls for State Probe of Failed Fairground Sale

Chaos at the Fair

 A ride at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

A committee set up by the Orange County Fair Board is recommending that the board urge Gov. Jerry Brown to investigate a shadowy statewide organization, the California Construction Authority, in connection with the failed effort during the Schwarzenegger administration to privatize the fairgrounds.

The CCA, a joint powers authority set up to speed fair construction projects across the state, imploded just as Brown took office. Several high-ranking officers of the OC Fair & Events Center, such as former CEO Becky Bailey Findley and current CEO Jerome Hobin, were top officials at CCA.

During the summer of 2009, the CCA provided a convenient mechanism for payments to lobbyists and other real estate consultants in connection with a scheme by a majority faction of Fair Board members to privatize fairgrounds.

While an Orange County district attorney review cleared Fair Board members, a Voice of OC investigative report in 2010 found that the DA probe missed key documents, such as legal billing records, that raised questions about potential violations of state lobbying regulations by Fair Board members and former state Sen. Dick Ackerman.

The report also highlights the role of the company LSA & Associates, which used to launder the political spending to Ackerman’s law firm, Nossaman and county lobbyists Platinum Advisors.

Since the original Voice of OC report, an investigation by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission remains, open and district attorney investigators say they are re-examining the case.

The 17-page report by the board's Fair Sale Review Committee examined the machinations during the years-long bid to privatize the Orange County fairgrounds. The committee tried to interview different board members, but only one, David Padilla, was apparently willing.

Former Fair Board members Joyce Tucker and Kristina Dodge also declined to be interviewed by the panel, composed of former city managers, police chiefs, activists and vendors.

The report will be presented Thursday morning at the monthly meeting of the fairground board of directors.

Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosanana.

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