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A Buyout Solution Weighed for Pacific Amphitheatre Furor

Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Fair Board, facing another round of lengthy litigation over loud concerts at the Pacific Amphitheatre, will hold an emergency meeting Monday to consider the ultimate answer: buying back the lease.

Ned West Inc., which operates the open-air concert bowl under a 40-year lease on the state-owned fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, may be presented as early as next week with the choice of selling its lease back to the state or facing state condemnation.

“At some point you have got to end the controversy,” said Dennis W. Dawson, a deputy state attorney general who is representing the board. “This matter has been broached before, but never with this seriousness and intensity.”

“We don’t have a choice,” said Neil Papiano, attorney for Ned West. “They can condemn us if that is what they want to do. It’s the ultimate solution and the ultimate ax.”

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Board Meeting Monday

The buyout proposal, suggested by Fair Board member Larry Arnold, will be discussed, along with other matters involving the long-running amphitheater litigation, during Monday’s meeting of the nine-member board.

With the collapse of settlement talks Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court, Arnold said, “I was trying to rack my brains for a viable alternative to everyone being stuck in court for another five years.”

The collapse came after four days of talks among a neighborhood anti-volume group, the state, Ned West and Costa Mesa city officials--all before Superior Court Judge Richard J. Beacom.

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The anti-volume neighbors--Concerned Citizens of Costa Mesa, a plaintiff in the lawsuit--rejected as inadequate a settlement proposal to enforce sound levels at the amphitheater through a system of operator fines.

Beacom then scheduled a trial date of May 31 to begin hearing the 4-year-old suit against the amphitheater’s operators.

Concerned Citizens first sued Ned West in 1984, alleging that the 18,500-capacity theater did not comply with state environmental laws and that concert volume made the facility a neighborhood nuisance.

Under Arnold’s buyout proposal, the state would seek an agreement with Ned West on the value remaining on the lease and the amphitheater itself, which was built by Ned West in 1983 for $11 million. If the two parties cannot agree on price, the state would have the authority to condemn the property and pay Ned West the appraised value for the facility.

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The board then would lease the amphitheater to another concert promoter, Arnold said.

Balance Sought

“The whole reason to do this is to try and work out a situation where the facility can be managed at a profitable level by some operator, and at the same time the residents would be afforded their rights,” Dawson said.

“We would try to create a situation where there aren’t recurring complaints. We don’t want the same kind of legal problems that Ned West has had as an operator.”

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Papiano estimated the value of Ned West’s existing lease, as well as the investment in the amphitheater, at $20 million.

Dawson declined to speculate on their value.

Attorney Richard L. Spix, who represents Concerned Citizens, said he fears that if the state were just to find a new operator for the concert bowl, that would do nothing to solve the underlying problem of concert volume affecting nearby residents.

“We’ll go from the fire to the frying pan,” Spix said. “What would that change, solve, improve? Absolutely nothing.”

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The state could also condemn the property of homeowners in the neighborhood surrounding the amphitheater who object to the volume, both Dawson and Papiano pointed out.

It was under this power of so-called inverse condemnation that the state, during settlement talks last week, offered to buy the homes of the loudest complainers, an offer that was rejected quickly by Spix and Concerned Citizens.

“That wouldn’t solve the noise problem, either,” Spix said.

But the prospect of a new amphitheater operator delighted one member of Concerned Citizens Wednesday.

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“If that’s what the state wants to do, it’s phenomenal,” said James R. (Rusty) Lusk, treasurer for the group.

“We simply want to turn down the noise at the amphitheater.”


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