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Governor signs bill prohibiting sale of O.C. fairgrounds

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday prohibiting the sale of the Orange County Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa.

"I thank the governor for his support for my bill, which deletes the provisions of state law exposing the property to a potential sale," Assemblyman Tom Daly (D-Anaheim) said in a statement Monday. "The Fair & Event Center is a source of pride and enjoyment for people across Orange County, and this ensures it will remain the special place that it is."

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Daly introduced his legislation, Assembly Bill 1907, in February. It cleared the state Legislature by wide margins before receiving Brown's signature.

The Democratic governor did not issue a statement on his decision to sign the bill.

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"It's a good day for the board, a good day for staff and a fabulous day for Orange County," Fair Board Chairman Gerardo Mouet said Monday.

Mouet, a board member since 2011, said it is vital that the state-owned fairgrounds remain in public hands because "once you sell a public asset, you never get it back."

The 150-acre property, he said, serves not only as a town center of sorts for Orange County but also as a "joy center" for those who visit.

"There are tons and tons of people who have childhood memories of the Orange County Fair," he said. "It makes me feel good that we have something signed that gives me peace of mind that the fair will continue for another 125 years."

This year's 126th annual Orange County Fair drew more than 1.34 million guests during its 23-day run in July and August — a 3.3% increase over 2015's attendance, according to fair officials.

The Fair & Event Center has been self-sustaining and operated at no cost to taxpayers since 2011, Daly said.

In 2009, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed selling the property to help shore up the state's budget during the recession.

In 2011, a court blocked the proposed $100 million sale to a private investment group.

The idea of selling the fairgrounds was scrapped later that year.

Though opponents of a sale raised questions about its legality, two Orange County district attorney's office investigations concluded that no members of the Fair Board had committed any wrongdoing.

Theresa Sears, a member of the Orange County Fair Preservation Society, which opposed selling the fairgrounds to a private interest, has praised Daly's bill as "welcome legislation."

The property, she said in an earlier interview, "belongs to the public ... it's a public asset, and it was very important [that] it stay in the hands of the public."

A community open house is scheduled for Sept. 22 to give the public a chance to share thoughts about the fair. The event — from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the administration building at the Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive — will include a celebration of the signing of AB 1907.

Mouet said he has suggested getting a cake with the bill's number on it for open house guests to munch on.

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