The California Department of General Services had this message for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday: It’s your Fairgrounds — sell it if you want to.
“DGS’s recommendation to Governor Schwarzenegger is to continue the sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds,” said Department of General Services Director Ron Diedrich.
Diedrich’s comments were in response to the latest shocker in the Fairgrounds saga, namely that the people of Orange County might actually own the 150-acre property, not the state.
At its meeting Friday, the Fair Board unanimously voted to challenge Schwarzenegger if he continues to move forward with a sale of the famous property in the heart of Costa Mesa.
Fair Board members argue that local residents likely have an ownership stake in the Fairgrounds because community residents bought it back in 1949 from the U.S. Army for $130,000.
Schwarzenegger’s office has not responded to calls seeking comment on the ownership of the Fairgrounds. Before Friday’s bombshell, the governor was planning to again put the property out for bid as his attempt to sell it to Costa Mesa and a private company for $96 million seemed less and less likely.
Diedrich said the state will not be deterred by the board’s new claims: “The Legislature approved the sale of the Fairgrounds in last year’s budget, and with that authority, we will continue to pursue this sale.”
The new developments led OC Fairgrounds Preservation Society President Sandy Genis to do some research of her own. She came up with a copy of the original 1949 deed and drew an interesting conclusion.
Genis — a former Costa Mesa mayor and planning consultant — said her review of the 1949 deed shows just how rushed Sacramento is.
For example, Genis said the state’s request for proposals on the Fairgrounds site notes that the state retains the mineral rights for the site. Except, the federal government opted to keep those when it sold the property back in 1949.
It tells her that state officials have only done a cursory review of such documents and issues, and it makes her wonder: “Are they hazy on other things as well?”
Genis noted that the only reason the public even found out that it owns the Fairgrounds is because Fair Board members tried to pull off a nonprofit plan to buy the land — and that forced the attorney general to resign from representing the panel.
And it was only because the Fair Board had its own attorneys that they started to explore the ownership issues.
“In a way, the attorney general firing them as a client has provided them the freedom to look into this,” Genis said. “It’s very ironic. Yet so many things on this journey make your head spin.”
Nonetheless, the state’s Diedrich made this prediction: “We are confident that the property will be sold, and when it is, the issues brought up last week at the OC Fair Board meeting will not affect the sale.”