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Public vote is unnecessary to extend lease for Fairview Park trains, committee says

Public vote is unnecessary to extend lease for Fairview Park trains, committee says
In this 2015 photo, Orange County Model Engineers member Larry Ogle navigates a model Santa Fe diesel locomotive pulling passengers through Costa Mesa's Fairview Park. (File photo)

Negotiations to re-up the agreement allowing the Orange County Model Engineers to operate their trains in Fairview Park seemingly remain on track after a Costa Mesa committee determined that extending the lease would not require a public vote.

The Fairview Park Steering Committee’s unanimous decision Wednesday clears one hurdle for the nonprofit club to continue offering its popular train rides, as it has since 1988.

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“I consider you a tremendous asset to the city, and I just want to wish you well in your renewal process,” committee member Steve Smith told the club representatives in attendance.

Officials from the city and the Model Engineers are in talks to extend the group’s contract, which expires in September.

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While some of the finer points are still being discussed, Fairview Park Administrator Cynthia D’Agosta said the latest proposal has a term of 15 years, with two, five-year extension options beyond that.

She added that the two parties were scheduled to meet Thursday to further discuss the lease. Once agreed to, the pact would eventually need City Council approval.

The Steering Committee’s role Wednesday was to determine whether an extension would be subject to the ballot box under Measure AA, a city initiative requiring that residents sign off on several possible changes at the park.

The Model Engineers, a near 200-member club, operates a 7.5-inch gauge railroad with more than 5 miles of track on the eastern side of the park. The group also has an on-site maintenance yard, gift shop and restroom.

Since those facilities are already in place, committee members said they don’t believe a Measure AA vote would be necessary for the group to keep chugging along.

“They are actually great stewards of the park,” said committee member Kim Hendricks.

As part of their long-running agreement with the city, the Model Engineers offer free train rides to the public on the third weekend of every month.

The trains also are available for birthday parties, said group representative Hank Castignetti.

He characterized the trains as a “passive use” and “a great way for the public to see the park.”

“We’re not dune buggies, we’re not motorcycle off-road folks, we don’t tear the place up, we don’t even encourage the public to randomly stroll through the park,” he told the committee. “We ask them to sit in a train and watch the park as the train progresses around.”

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