O.C. Fair & Event Center board backs off plan to fight bill aimed at ending gun shows

An entrance to the O.C. Fair & Event center is shown
The Orange County Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa.
(Sara Cardine / Times Community News )

Officials of the Orange County Fair & Event Center are backing off from attempts to soften the economic blow of a state Senate bill that would end gun shows at the O.C. fairgrounds.

Board members earlier this month considered sending a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom urging him to veto SB 264, a piece of legislation intended to enact a statewide ban on the sale of guns and ammunition on state-owned properties but amended to apply only to the Costa Mesa fairgrounds.

That property for more than 25 years has hosted gun shows operated by Utah-based Crossroads of the West, earning millions for the 32nd District Agricultural Assn. and drawing up to 70,000 visitors annually.


To help prevent the loss of as much as $1 million in income next year should SB 264 pass, board members were considering preapproving a 2022 contract with Crossroads before the bill’s Jan. 1 effective date.

But those plans were halted Thursday in a meeting during which the bill’s author, Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine), several public speakers and even some board members challenged the necessity of a state-operated entity involving itself in firearm sales.

The nine-member panel voted 5 to 3 (one member, Newton Pham, was absent) to refrain from sending the letter and, in a second vote, tabled talks of a Crossroads contract until January.

Min told board members in a public comment that SB 264 was written to get California out of the business of selling guns, even at a single fairground site. He pledged to introduce legislation to widen his scope once more to include all such properties.

“While I respect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, including the 2nd Amendment, there is no requirement that the state of California has to be an accessory to, has to profit off, the sales of guns, when we know this will invariably lead to more gun violence and the astronomical, moral social and economic costs,” he said.

Fair board Chairwoman Natalie Rubalcava-Garcia maintained that it is the responsibility of board members, as governor-appointed policymakers, to remain fiscally solvent and neutral in viewpoint. She said she supported sending the letter to create a public record about the negative economic impact SB 264 would have on the center’s finances.

But board member Nick Kovacevich said that if a letter wouldn’t help recoup the lost funds, he’d prefer to hold off on appealing to Newsom, especially as the governor has previously spoken in favor of gun sale bans on state-owned properties.


Board members considered seeking a veto of SB 264, while pre-approving a contract for gun sales to the fairgrounds through 2022. But the bill’s author advised caution.

Sept. 13, 2021

“I’m a believer in picking your battles,” he said. “I don’t see the merit or the fruit this letter would yield.”

In the discussion of whether to preapprove a 2022 contract with Crossroads of the West, which some speakers said would be an outright circumvention of SB 264’s mandates, some board members favored the move.

“This is about the financial impact” to the agricultural district, said the board’s Robert Ruiz. “I would be in favor of approving this for the sole reason that now I know [the revenue] is going to go away. And this would buy us time, another year at least, for us as a board to come up with another solution to replace the money that we’re going to lose.”

Newly appointed member Melahat Rafiei took a different view.

“This would be a hyperpolitical move to try to fast-forward these contracts for something that’s clearly not going to be moving forward otherwise,” she said. “So I’m going to not support us signing these contracts.”

The board voted 6 to 1 to table the contract.

Cardine writes for Times Community News.