Facing a barrage of legal threats from a coalition of Fair vendors and elected officials, the Schwarzenegger administration has backed away from a controversial plan to transfer title of the Orange County Fairgrounds to a Newport Beach company during a special New Year’s Day meeting of the Orange County Fair Board.
The Fair Board cancelled that meeting Wednesday “after consultation with the office of the Attorney General,” according to the notice posted on the Fair Board’s website. The attorney general is, of course, Jerry Brown, who will become California’s next governor on Jan. 3.
And that’s the deadline the Schwarzenegger administration, and the company, Facilities Management West, were trying to avoid. Many close to the sale process believe that Brown will frown upon any such sale of the Fairgrounds, just like he’s come out against the sale of 11 state-owned buildings.
A temporary restraining order against the proposed sale to FMW has, in one form or another, been in place since earlier this month. And it’s expected to stay in place until Feb. 8, when the matter reaches the state appellate court in Santa Ana for a public hearing.
Also Wednesday, the state Supreme Court refused to hear the Schwarzenegger administration’s plea for immediate relief in unlocking the frozen sale of the state-owned buildings.
All of these developments mean it’s highly likely that the 150-acre Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa will stay a public facility for the time being.
But it’s not due to lack of effort on the part of state officials and FMW. Even with the court orders in place, they have inched forward toward a sale by doing such things as holding transition meetings with employees.
However, state officials seem to have overreached when they attempted to force the Fair Board to hold a public meeting and transfer title of the property to FMW on New Year’s Day.
That triggered a series of letters from attorneys representing the Fair vendors and elected officials warning them that they would aggressively seek legal sanctions against the Fair Board members and officials in the Schwarzenegger administration if they proceeded with the New Year’s Day meeting.
“It is our intent to protect fully the order issued by the court, and we will take whatever action is necessary to accomplish that intent,” read the Dec. 23 letter sent to former state Assemblyman Tom Umberg, an attorney with the law firm of Manatt Phelps & Phillips, which has represented the Fair Board since Brown’s office resigned from representing the body in 2009.
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the title of Fred Aguiar, who is a senior aide to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
— NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.