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Two members of the Orange County Fairgrounds Board of Directors said they are confident safety concerns raised in two different reports, including a state Fire Marshal report, won’t pose a threat to the O.C. Fair opening July 13 for its annual month-long run.

“I’m very comfortable where everything stands,” Director Doug La Belle said in a phone interview. “I wanted to make sure that those (concerns) were all addressed and I communicated with staff yesterday (Monday, July 2) and all of those items have been addressed.”

The California Fair Services Authority’s (CFSA) March report and the state Fire Marshal’s May report found numerous safety issues with parts of the fairgrounds and noted in reports it’s the second time staff has been notified about some of the issues. Some of the biggest issues, like lack of a working fire sprinkler, were found at the equestrian center.  

“The Fire Marshal would obviously not let us open up a fair if he had major concerns,” Director Ashleigh Aitken said in a Tuesday, July 3 phone interview. She also is the daughter of Voice of OC board Chairman Wylie A. Aitken. “The outstanding issues are not going to affect the Orange County Fair, but they do still affect the Equestrian Center.”

La Belle, during the June 28 OC Fair board meeting, said he wanted to have another meeting before the fair opens next week so the safety issues could be publicly addressed. The former Chino Hills and Signal Hill city manager said after he spoke with staff July 2, his concerns were alleviated.

“The few remaining items pose no immediate concerns,” La Belle said. “The need for a special meeting, I felt, was not needed anymore … The reports have gone not only to the directors, but are posted online.”

“Any major thing on the punch list that Director La Belle was concerned about has been taken care of,” Aitken said.  

The state Fire Marshal found the equestrian center’s fire sprinkler system doesn’t work — it’s the second notice given to fairgrounds staff since 2016. The report also warned against “daisy chaining” surge protectors at the center, which is plugging one surge protector into another one to gain more outlets for electrical equipment. The Fire Marshal also said the equestrian center should stop using extension cords as permanent electrical infrastructure.

Aitken said fairgrounds staff are asking the Fire Marshal for an extension in order to fix the equestrian center. “Some issues are not solved overnight,” she said.

The CFSA found an uncovered electrical circuit breaker at the Pac Amphitheater.

“This condition has been noted on several inspection reports,” reads the CFSA report.

OC Fair spokeswoman Terry Moore said staff has been working on the safety concerns since the reports were issued. She also said the electrical panel is in a locked room, which is closed off from the public.

“It’s not sitting out there in the open,” Moore said in a Tuesday phone interview.

Moore also said the reports are helpful each year because the infrastructure and buildings sprawled throughout the 150-acre fairgrounds is a lot for staff to keep track of.

The CFSA also notes various trip and fall hazards throughout the fairgrounds like uneven pavement by ticket gates, hazardous storm drains and potholes at the equestrian center.

“Some of the issues raised in the inspections were already on the radar of the maintenance crews and other items noted in the reports were new. Many of the items were minor, asphalt repairs for example, that are part of ongoing maintenance,” Moore wrote in a Tuesday email.

The reports also found issues in the Spectra kitchen — cooking equipment, like a deep fryer, was rearranged by staff, but the range the equipment sits under has a fire extinguisher system in place which was optimized for past equipment configurations in the kitchen, according to the report.

“In doing this, it effectively negates both use and effectiveness of the automatic range hood fire suppression system,” reads the CFSA report. “Note: this issue has been noted in previous inspection reports.”

Moore said the kitchen issues have been fixed.

“The Spectra kitchen concerns noted in the two reports (two different years) have been 100% addressed and all equipment is in place,” she said.

La Belle said,” Everything that needed to be done to make sure everything is corrected has been done.”

Fairgrounds activist and Orange resident Reggie Mundekis said she doesn’t believe the staff are taking the problems seriously because some of the issues have been noted in safety reports numerous times.

“We’re in a situation where there’s many questions on which action may have been taken (on fixing safety issues),” Mundekis said in a phone interview. “A lot of these problems have been lingering on for years in some cases and I have no faith and no trust that this is an organization that takes these things seriously.”

Attorney Vincent Pollmeier, who’s married to Mundekis, echoed her concerns.

“In Orange County people love to quote Ronald Reagan — ‘trust and verify’ — I don’t think we’re in a situation where we can trust anymore, we just have to verify,” Pollmeier.

Aitkens said she’s going to push for a committee to help keep track of all the safety issues throughout the year.

“We are going to be discussing, moving forward, having some type of building committee,” Aitken said. “ Making sure that we’re doing the proper follow up to ensure the safety and the maintenance.”

La Belle is also on board with the idea. “I think that’s a certainly a good idea.”  

At the June 28 fair board meeting, only the equestrian center safety issues were on the agenda. At that meeting, staff estimated that the center’s fire sprinkler system hasn’t worked for at least 10 years.

There was confusion among staff and board members over who would pay for the equestrian center fire sprinkler repair, the fairgrounds or the equestrian center lessee, Equestrian Services II. Board members voted unanimously to make the repairs and figure out who pays later. Although there’s no official estimate on the repairs, staff said it could be in the $40,000 ballpark.

“Get it done. Fix it. We can argue later about who pays for it. And believe me, with all due respect, when the attorneys get involved, we’ll be arguing two, three years down,” La Belle said at the meeting.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org.

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