O.C. fairgrounds could be considered as site of emergency homeless housing

Orange County fairgrounds
The state may assess the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa as a possible location for an emergency homeless shelter.
(Daily Pilot)

The OC Fair & Event Center is preparing for the possibility that the Costa Mesa fairgrounds could become the site of an emergency homeless shelter.

In an executive order addressing homelessness, Gov. Gavin Newsom last week ordered the California Department of Food and Agriculture to assess “fairgrounds in or near jurisdictions where a shelter crisis is currently in effect” to determine whether the state-owned properties could be viable venues for short-term shelters for people experiencing homelessness.

The Department of Food and Agriculture, along with a slew of other state agencies, has until Jan. 31 to conduct an initial assessment of fairgrounds, as well as vacant hospitals and other state-owned properties. A year ago, Newsom issued an executive order to create an inventory of such state properties.

“At this point, we have no idea what the criteria is for the assessment; we’re just waiting to hear,” said Orange County fairgrounds Chief Executive Michele Richards. “But obviously, we’re prepared to respond if we’re called into action to participate in the assessment.”


Without knowing the criteria for the assessment, Richards said she had no opinion about whether the Fair & Event Center would be a good option for an emergency homeless shelter. The fairgrounds are already designated as an emergency shelter for large animals in case of an evacuation, such as during the 2017 Anaheim Hills fire.

Whether the fairgrounds qualify as a location “where a shelter crisis is currently in effect” is unclear. Steve Lyle, director of public affairs for the Department of Food and Agriculture, said the agency is still evaluating whether the Fair & Event Center would be assessed.

Fairgrounds board Chairwoman Sandra Cervantes did not immediately comment Tuesday.

Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley was skeptical that Orange County would qualify when compared with fairgrounds in other counties racked by homelessness. The Fair & Event Center is a couple of miles from Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene, where Costa Mesa opened a temporary shelter in April. The city is not experiencing a crisis, Foley said, citing 42 people placed in permanent housing to date.

“It seems like there’s probably other locations where there’s more of a desperation to try to get people out of being encamped,” Foley said. “Cooperatively with [other] cities over the last two years, we’ve really worked to resolve those issues here in Orange County.”

Given that the Fair & Event Center also is a year-round venue for events such as gun shows, Touch-a-Truck and the Orange County Market Place swap meet, “the fairgrounds is not an appropriate place for housing,” Foley said.

Foley was part of a lawsuit filed in 2010 aimed at blocking the sale of the fairgrounds to a private investment group.

Repurposing state-owned property in Costa Mesa for homeless services isn’t a new idea. The state has suggested using Fairview Developmental Center, a sprawling campus housing adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as a potential location for that. The center is slated to close this year.

In September, the Costa Mesa City Council authorized a special committee to be a liaison with state officials about the potential future of the Fairview campus.

About 300 people attended a public meeting in 2018 about the possibility of using Fairview, which at its peak in 1967 housed 2,700 people, as an emergency shelter for the homeless. Most in attendance opposed the idea, prompting the council to pass a formal resolution disapproving of it.

Pinho writes for the Daily Pilot.