Smoking at the OC Fair? Only in certain places, board decides

The Orange County Fair Board ratified a new smoking policy Thursday, a decision that was greeted with praise from anti-smoking advocates but skepticism from fair-time vendors.

Seven members of the board — Directors Bao Nguyen and Barbara Bagneris were absent — approved the change, which permits smoking of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vaporizers and similar devices only in designated areas for fairgrounds-produced events, namely the summertime fair.

Those areas are still to be determined.

Per state law, smoking is also not allowed within 20 feet of buildings. At the fairgrounds, those include Centennial Farm and the Pacific Amphitheatre.

The vote was met with enthusiasm from advocates, including the American Lung Assn., but vendors like Mike and Jeanine Robbins, who own Paradise Cigars, expressed concern about the rules hurting their business and the adult environment of the fair.

Chairwoman Ashleigh Aitken called the changes a good first step that will combat the negative effects of second-hand smoke.

"I think it's as good as we're going to get this year," she said.

Aitken added that the law was not about banning the sale of tobacco products, which could still be purchased at the fairgrounds and used elsewhere.

She compared buying tobacco products and using them at the fair to buying wine at Vons, uncorking it and drinking it "in the middle of the dairy aisle."

Director Nick Berardino said he felt his vote was "hypocritical" when considering the problems surrounding the fair's rows of wood smoke-producing barbecue stands.

"We've allowed these vendors to get away with this," Berardino said. "That's also got to be fixed."

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Legal service savings

The board approved a formal request to the state attorney general's office to again represent the fairgrounds, a move that is expected to generate significant cost savings.

The office cut its ties with the fairgrounds, a state-owned property, in late 2009. At the time, the attorney general's office felt its representation in Costa Mesa was conflicted by the proposed fairgrounds sale to a private entity, an effort that ultimately failed.

Without state lawyers, the fair board hired Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, a Los Angeles-based firm with a Costa Mesa office that has provided more than $1.3 million worth of legal services since February 2010.

The attorney general's office is expected to charge $170 an hour. By comparison, Roger Grable, the fairgrounds' legal counsel from Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, charges $594 an hour — a discounted rate from $660 an hour, according to fair staff.

Manatt, Phelps and Phillips has told fair officials it can't compete with the attorney general's rates, but will stay onboard during a transition.

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Heroes Hall

Fair officials announced that a planned veterans museum near Centennial Farm will be called Heroes Hall.

The museum is proposed to be inside the Memorial Gardens Building, a former Army barracks from World War II.

Heroes Hall now has a website at http://www.ocfair.com/heroeshall.

The Memorial Gardens Building, named after a veterans memorial garden taken out in the 1980s, had been slated for demolition to make way for a new entrance to the Pacific Amphitheatre.

After news broke in 2013 of the building's loss, however, veterans groups and others decried the decision. The board then approved for the building's temporary relocation and discussed tentative plans for its eventual use as a veterans museum to pay tribute to Orange County veterans and commemorate the fairgrounds' history as a former Army base.

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