State officials today are expected to announce plans to take over operation of the Pacific Amphitheatre from entertainment giant Nederlander Inc.
Costa Mesa City Councilman Peter F. Buffa said Wednesday night that he received a "heads up" from officials that the Orange County Fair Board would take control of a long-term lease held by Nederlander to schedule and book acts into the facility.
The financial details of the arrangement, however, were not immediately known.
According to the deal, Buffa said, Nederlander would remain in operating control through the current concert season, ending in September, before turning it over to the board.
The amphitheater is owned by the board, but Buffa said Nederlander owns an operations' lease that would have run well beyond the year 2000. The Fair Board is part of the the state government bureaucracy formally known as the 32nd Agricultural District.
Buffa said the deal presented a "hopeful sign" for the city as it attempts to coordinate activities both during the Orange County Fair and on concert days at the amphitheater.
The councilman said nightmarish traffic jams have resulted when both the fair and amphitheater have scheduled headline acts on the same summer evenings.
"There was one night when a radio station was actually advising people to stay away from the fair (because of the traffic)," he said.
Fair officials refused to release details until a formal announcement is made today. But officials familiar with the negotiations said the two sides have been meeting for several months to work out a settlement.
For years, the city, fair officials and operators of the theater have spent countless hours in court battling over noise, traffic and parking caused by concerts.
Residents near the theater have fought unsuccessfully for a decade to have the volume turned down, and on Wednesday night several remained guarded in their reaction to the news. The state, which leases the theater to Ned West, has not included noise limits as terms of the lease in the past, so state operation of the place might not make a difference, residents said.
"I think it is a bit premature. The state may think they have a big money-making venture," said Rusty Lusk, a member of Concerned Citizens of Costa Mesa, the grass-roots group formed nearly a decade ago to fight the amphitheater. "We are more than willing to show them how to correct their behavior."
Mayor Sandra L. Genis said that if the state takes control, she hopes it will end the problem with concerts that have clogged city streets when they are held during the annual fair.
"I think its a hopeful sign that we can make some progress, specifically with the noise and traffic," Genis said. "It could eliminate that problem."