Wednesday, April 21, 2010 |Costa Mesa city officials are on a plane today bound for Sacramento to hand deliver a minimum $96 million dollar offer to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to buy the Orange County Fairgrounds.

Council members and other officials have for a month been engaged in negotiations with Schwarzenegger largely behind closed doors. And they have privately assembled a financing package along with a group of vendors and promoters associated with current fair operations.

Today the officials are expected to show the governor the offer and unveil the potential partners.

All those private maneuverings were wrapped up nicely on Tuesday night with one quick public city council vote. City Manager Alan Roeder along with two council members, Katrina Foley and Gary Monahan, were authorized to present the offer to Schwarzenegger.

Activists who don’t want the fair sold have seized on the private nature of the negotiations. Former Costa Mesa Mayor Sandy Genis — who is president of the OC Fairgrounds Preservation Society — publicly chastised city officials last week after another closed session meeting.

“It is recognized that the proposed land purchase is a complex issue. However, that is no justification for excluding the public from important aspects of the proposed purchase,” wrote Genis to city council members in her Apr. 14 letter.

Genis referenced an April 6 closed session discussion on the fair negotiations that produced two council negotiators and unnamed advisors. She noted that the whole process had kept the public in the dark.

“[It] deprived myself and other members of the public of the opportunity to monitor City Council activities and exercise our rights to testify on the business at hand,” Genis wrote.

Costa Mesa City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow has not returned several calls for comment regarding the legality of the negotiations.

In an interview last Friday, City Manager Alan Roeder acknowledged that many of the private maneuverings over the fairgrounds were “the worst kept secret in town.”

Roeder, who emphasizes that city officials are reacting to events not of their making regarding the fairgrounds, said the whole 30-day negotiating window was a hard fought concession from the governor. And there’s no framework to follow.

“We’ve been shoved into this situation,” Roeder said. “We would like nothing better than to wind back the clock. This is not a power grab. We prefer to not have to do this.”

They just want to preserve the fairgrounds as it is.

But Roeder acknowledges that the city officials are “struggling figuring out how to get there…there’s not a well-defined process.”

Roeder said he had received Genis’ letter about the improper noticing of meetings and addressed council leaks regarding closed session discussions that confirm items were discussed that were not on the agenda.

“I can tell you there were names thrown out in terms of people who could help advise,” Roeder said of the Apr. 6 closed session.

Roeder acknowledged that the leak of the closed session details by Planning Commission Jim Righeimer on a reporter’s voice mail were problematic and would be dealt with by the city council at a later date.

When asked whether his Apr. 7 letter to potential investors in the city purchase indicated the council had long ago decided to purchase the fairgrounds without announcing it publicly, Roeder replied, “that decision has not been made.”

Yet Roeder’s Apr. 7 letter to potential investors read, “It is the intention of the City to provide the state a proposal to purchase the OCFEC.”

Roeder acknowledged that kind of a decision would have to come before council members in open session, as it did Tuesday night.

Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.orgAnd add your voice with a letter to the editor.

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