Wednesday, December 15, 2010 | An Orange County Superior Court judge refused Wednesday to grant a permanent injunction against the sale of the historic 150-acre Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
The issue is now expected to move to a state appellate court as the clock ticks ever closer to Jan. 3, the day Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger leaves office and the sale becomes potentially moot.
Inside a packed courtroom, Judge Michael Brenner rejected all of the arguments put forth by Fairgrounds activists and vendors that the sale violated the state constitution and the state’s own rules for bidding on public properties.
Brenner also ruled against arguments by state Sen. Lou Correa and Assemblyman Jose Solorio (both of whom represent Orange County) that Schwarzenegger did not get proper legislative approvals for the sale.
Yet Brenner also acknowledged that opponents of the sale would have another day (or days) in court. “We all know that I don’t have the last word on this,” Brenner said.
Brenner agreed to a request by the plaintiffs to leave in place the current temporary restraining order blocking the sale until Dec. 21. By then, it’s expected that the issue will have already gone before the appellate court.
“This is a very important issue, and both sides have every right to have the issue reviewed by a higher court,” Brenner said, adding that it would likely reach the state Supreme Court.
After Brenner’s ruling, Thomas Gibbs, an attorney for Facilities Management West, the company attempting to purchase the property, said “the judge had it right.”
“There was no sham here,” Gibbs said, referring to the allegations made in court that the process to sell the Fairgrounds was unfair and lacked transparency.
Attorneys representing Fairgrounds vendors argued to Brenner that he didn’t sufficiently consider how each individual issue compounded each other to create illegalities.
The fact that the request for proposal process wasn’t followed, the differences in bids for the property, and the lack of legislative approval all combined to make a clouded process that kept competitors out, Fairgrounds vendors’ attorneys argued.
And the public has been left out of the entire process, argued Wylie Aitken, who represented Correa and Solorio. Aitken (who also serves on Voice of OC’s board of directors) argued to Brenner that legislative approval hadn’t happened, which is not acceptable given the importance of the property to the community.
Yet Aitken acknowledged that Brenner “was in a tough spot and called it the best way he knew how.”
Few could have predicted that the fight would reach this level when Schwarzenegger first put the OC Fairgrounds on a for-sale list along with fairgrounds up and down the state and iconic properties like San Quentin Prison and the Los Angeles Coliseum.
While the rest of the state’s fairgrounds lobbied against any sale, Orange County Fair Board members sent Schwarzenegger signs of community support by forming a nonprofit to purchase the property.
That plan soon blew up, with the state Attorney General’s Office refusing to continue representation of the Fair Board, and an investigation by the Orange County district attorney.
Since then, Gov. Schwarzenegger has attempted to put together several deals involving FMW to sell the property despite a vigorous public campaign against the sale featuring petition drives with more than 50,000 signatures and ballot initiatives limiting development on the property.