Patrons of the weekend swap meet held on the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. Costa Mesa is in negotiations to buy the fairgrounds from the state. Credit: Violeta Vaqueiro

One insider on the proposed sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds called the $100 million price tag for the 150-acre tract in Costa Mesa, “the real estate steal of the century.”

However, figuring out just what the unique property — which has been the site of the Fair since 1949 — is worth doesn’t seem to be an easy task.

Throughout the many public debates on the controversial sale (even on the floor of the state assembly), no one has ever been able to authoritatively say how much the property is worth. Even state officials involved in the sale say their estimates are just estimates.

Yet documents obtained by Voice of OC indicate that Orange County Fair Board sought to answer that question as early as June 2009 when they contracted the Newport Beach-based firm of Richard A. Fuller Consulting.

One billing statement dated June 17 (well before legislation authorizing a sale was passed on July 2) shows a $5,000 retainer being paid to Fuller – who specializes in real estate valuation – for a “retainer for appraisal of Orange County Fair and Event Center, Costa Mesa, California.”

Other payments in July and August related to the appraisal to Fuller’s firm went on to total more than $36,000.

Those payments are now making activists opposing the sale very curious.

At last week’s fair board meeting, Sandy Genis — a former Costa Mesa mayor and president of the OC Fairgrounds Preservation Society — made a public records request for the appraisal in front of the entire audience.

As a land-use consultant herself, Genis said she’s anxious to see the property’s appraised value, but more importantly, she wants to see if the appraiser’s assumptions can shed light on what is really being planned for the property.

Because many appraisers use “highest and best” use for estimates, she’s curious what Mr. Fuller’s assumptions were…in essence, what is planned for the site.

Robin Wachner, a spokeswoman for the OC Fair and Event Center, said she wasn’t aware of the appraisal issue but said she’d look into it as well as the status of Genis’ public records request.

Genis said in addition to verbally asking for the public records from the podium (which is considered a legal request under state law) she also submitted her request in writing as a courtesy.


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