Rent hike issue kicks up dust at fairgrounds’ equestrian center

Gibran Stout with horse Finn at Costa Mesa City Hall to protest increased boarding rates at the OC fairgrounds.
Gibran Stout and horse Finn participate in an April demonstration at Costa Mesa City Hall in protest of increased horse boarding fees at the Orange County fairgrounds.
(Eric Licas)
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Good morning. It’s Wednesday, July 3. I’m Carol Cormaci bringing you this week’s TimesOC newsletter with a look at some of the latest local news and events. Thank you for tuning in on this day before we celebrate the Fourth of July.

Rent hikes aren’t popular with anyone but landlords. As we’ve noted here before, Orange County in particular has continued an upward trend in residential rates while other sites around the U.S. have seen a slight decline.

But humans in this county aren’t the only ones affected by the rise in the cost of keeping a roof over one’s head. Consider the horses boarded at the equestrian center that lies on the OC fairgrounds property.


After some lengthy wrangling that’s left bad feelings among the O.C. horse set, several people who board their animals at the center received notices in June requiring them to accept recent rent hikes and new contract terms or vacate the premises.

“Recipients were given 30 days to sign new rental agreements — accepting phased rent hikes amounting to a 52% increase by January 2025, when a new contract term would begin — or to pack up their horses, gear and leave the facility,” according to this news story reported by my Daily Pilot colleague Sara Cardine.

Only two of those who received the notice agreed to comply.

“A group of outstanding renters told [Orange County Fair & Event Center] board members in a meeting Thursday they could not accept the new terms, which include a $400 monthly facility use fee for trainers who use the site for lessons and other activities, require a one-time security deposit equaling 50% of the monthly rent of each stall and make occupants responsible for damages on an already aging facility,” Cardine reports.

“I don’t even know if I can make programs that can sustain the rent increase,” trainer Lisa Sabo told the board in a public comment. “How can I put [a $10,000 deposit] on facility repairs when there’s so much deferred maintenance?”

The equestrians have also raised the specter of questionable meeting practices on the part of the OCFEC board. Earlier this year they engaged a high-powered law firm to represent them. One of its attorneys on June 17 alerted the board in a letter to possible illegalities, according to the story.

The reporter spoke to OCFEC Chief Executive Michele Richards last week, who acknowledged receipt of the letter.

“We are represented by the state attorney general’s office, and they received a copy of the letter and are evaluating the allegations,” Richards said, adding that she could not directly respond to the claims.

The OCFEC board in the spring voted “to continue a visioning process under which the aging Equestrian Center would be transformed into a more public-facing community equine center called the Ranch,” Cardine explains.

Many trainers at the center — even those still unwilling to capitulate to the revised contract terms — have expressed their desire to participate in talks about the Ranch.

But can there be a meeting of the minds? OCFEC’s Richards has her doubts.

“Actions speak louder than words, and I just don’t believe there’s much intention to help us realize this vision,” she said.


Safe Streets banners hang along Beach Boulevard in Stanton. They herald a campaign to combat sex trafficking.
(Don Leach/Daily Pilot)

• In order to combat sex trafficking in its community, mostly along Beach Boulevard, the Stanton City Council last week approved the rental of two solar-powered mobile cameras that will be installed around “hot spots,” TimesOC reported over the weekend. “An around-the-clock recorded livestream will serve as a visual deterrent for potential sex buyers,” according to the story by Gabriel San Román. “But the cameras will also feature an audio recording that, when triggered, will play bilingual messages offering victim support information to sex workers exploited by pimps.”

• The Orange County Board of Supervisors last week voted to end the county’s contract with the anti-hate nonprofit Groundswell, an organization that supports the work of the O.C. Human Relations Commission. The move raised some eyebrows within the community, as it comes amid the Gaza War rift. “There is no change to the budget or staffing at this time,” Do said during a budget hearing. “We’re just directing the function to go internal.”

• With some of its aging facilities in need of renovations, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District has been considering putting a multi-million-dollar bond measure on the ballot for voters. In order to make this year’s ballot a decision would have to be made this month, according to this Daily Pilot report. But a bond feasibility survey, designed to gauge the potential voter support for such a move suggests it might be wiser for district officials to wait until the midterm 2026 election cycle to seek it.

• In business news, Irvine-based Rivian Automotive is getting a $5-billion infusion from Volkswagen, The Los Angeles Times reported. It’s a partnership in which the German automaker will provide $1 billion initially and as much as $4 billion more over time that will allow VW to tap Rivian’s technology to develop “next generation” battery-powered vehicles and software.

• Twenty passengers on the Incredicoaster at Disneyland had to be rescued Sunday afternoon after the ride broke down. It was a relatively hot day in Anaheim, so while waiting for their rescue from the 120-foot-tall roller coaster they were provided umbrellas to shade them from the beating sun.


Assistant Public Defender Ken Morrison delivers his closing arguments in the murder trial of Samuel Woodward on Monday.
Assistant Public Defender Ken Morrison delivers his closing arguments in the murder trial of Samuel Woodward for the killing of Blaze Bernstein in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana on Monday.
(Leonard Ortiz/Orange County Register/POOL)

• The murder trial of Samuel Woodward, accused of fatally stabbing Blaze Bernstein in January 2018 in what prosecutors maintain was a hate crime, was put into the hands of the jury Tuesday afternoon. Woodward’s public defender, Ken Morrison, made his closing arguments Monday and Tuesday in an Orange County courtroom, during which he said his client should not be convicted for murder, but for voluntary manslaughter.

• Details were sparse as of newsletter deadline, but the Newport Beach Police Department put out a notification late Tuesday afternoon of heavy police activity at Fashion Island shopping center. It was reported later that one woman had been killed when the robbery suspects ran over her with their getaway car as they fled the scene. In a news conference Tuesday evening, Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill tried to reassure the public that his city is safe, while lamenting the incident. “We have to do better as a society,” he said. “We can’t tolerate this.”

• Santa Ana police officers responding to a 12:30 a.m. call Sunday found 20-year-old Fernando Manuel Lopez lying in the southbound lanes of Bristol Street. Lopez had been fatally shot, according to a CNS report. An investigation into his death is underway.

A Fullerton man was arrested in connection with a hit-and-run accident last week on Laguna Canyon Road that sent seven people to the hospital. He and the driver of another car were allegedly speeding together on the road when the crash occurred with an uninvolved vehicle. Both speeding drivers took off from the scene. Police are still seeking the second suspect, who was behind the wheel of a white BMW.

• It’s been decided how $100,000 in reward money will be split following the recent conviction of Marcus Eriz in the 2021 road-rage killing of 6-year-old Aiden Leos on the 55 Freeway. Tipsters Laura Keith, Jesica Rodriguez and Raul Martinez, will each receive a share of the pot, with Keith receiving 70%, Rodriguez 20% and Martinez 10%, based on the value to investigators of their respective tips in solving the case.


John Force talks to crew members at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. in 2018.
John Force of Yorba Linda, shown talking to crew members in 2018, remains under intensive care at a Virginia hospital after sustaining brain injuries in a 302-mph crash on a racetrack June 23.
(Mark Long / Associated Press)

NHRA great John Force a 16-time National Hot Rod Assn. champion from Yorba Linda, is recovering in neuro intensive care at a Virginia hospital following a fiery 300-mph crash in the Virginia Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park on June 23. The 75-year-old Force hit a concrete guard wall in the first round of eliminations after the engine of his Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car had a catastrophic failure.

• Morten Karlsen, coach of the Orange County Soccer Club, is heading back home to his native Denmark. He’ll become the new manager of Lyngby Boldklub in the Danish Superliga, the team announced Tuesday.

• It’s hard to believe, but it’s been five years since the July 2019 death by drug overdose of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs that sent shockwaves through Major League Baseball. In investigative piece, David Wharton and Nathan Fenno, both staff writers for The Times, reconstructed from documents the final days and hours of Skaggs’ all-too-short life.

• Two Orange County residents will be trying to help Team USA win gold in women’s soccer this summer at the Paris Olympics. Newport Beach native Trinity Rodman and Huntington Beach native Jenna Nighswonger were named to the Olympic roster last Wednesday.


 Jack Johnson, 51, left, of Cypress, and Michael Moyer, 51, of Newport Beach.
Four years ago as the pandemic was locking down the world, Jack Johnson, 51, left, of Cypress, and Michael Moyer, 51, of Newport Beach, had a wild dream: to build two 19-and-a-half-foot sailboats, ship them to Portugal and race them single-handed across the Atlantic. Last fall, the two friends, who learned how to sail in Newport Harbor, realized their ambitions.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

• Cypress resident Jack Johnson had quite a solo adventure that was the topic of this captivating feature story by Times staff writer Thomas Curwen. Johnson built by hand (using a kit!) a sailboat to race across the Atlantic from Portugal to Antigua as a competitor in the Globe 5.80 Transat. He talked his longtime friend from their days on the sailing team at Newport Harbor High, Mike Moyer, into doing the same. Storms, a lost anchor and other challenges aside, Johnson won the 3,186-mile race in just under 34 days. Moyer came in second.

Margie Castle paints a work inspired by the nearby brunfelsia blooms at Sherman Gardens.
Margie Castle, who suffered a serious stroke in 1983, paints a work inspired by the nearby brunfelsia blooms at Sherman Gardens.
(Susan Hoffman)

• In 1983, when she was just 33, Margie Castle suffered a debilitating stroke. Today, the Newport Beach resident, a prolific artist whose works are shown around O.C., keeps up with her favorite pastime, despite the fact her hand is not steady. With her characteristic humor, Castle calls the sometimes shaky brush strokes she makes “sweet surprises.”

Din Tai Fung opens in the Downtown Disney District at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.
Din Tai Fung opens in the Downtown Disney District at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.
(Courtesy of Christian Thompson / Disneyland Resort)

• Operators of the Tawainese eatery Din Tai Fung opened a much-anticipated location Monday in the Downtown Disney District. Best known for xiao long bao, or steamed soup “dumplings,” Din Tai Fung’s Hong Kong location has been awarded a Michelin Star five times, according to this TimesOC feature by Sarah Mosqueda.

A two-alarm fire started in the kitchen of the Huntington Beach Avila's El Ranchito in November.
A two-alarm fire started in the kitchen of the Huntington Beach Avila’s El Ranchito in November. The owners of the chain restaurant announced Friday that site will be closed permanently, after 25 years in the community.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

• It’s been a tough road cleaning up and rebuilding the Avila’s El Ranchito location in Huntington Beach since it suffered a fire last November. So much so, the owners of the restaurant chain announced on Instagram on Friday they were permanently shuttering the Main Street site, which first opened in 1999.


Chicken Charlie's food booth at the Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa.
The 2024 Orange County Fair begins July 19 and runs through Aug. 18 at the OC fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. Tickets are on sale now.
(File Photo)

• We’re getting closer to the date the Orange County Fair gets underway, and advance tickets, which are required of all fair-goers, are on sale now. The fair will open Friday, July 19 and close Thursday, Aug. 18. General admission on Wednesday and Thursday is $13. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it’s $15. Seniors 60 and older as well as children ages 6 through 12 can get into the fair for $9 every day. Tickets can be purchased at

• If you haven’t yet settled on where you’ll be spending the holiday, the Daily Pilot and TimesOC have rounded up two lists of coastal Orange County Independence Day events: parades and other activities without fireworks and celebrations where spectacular pyrotechnic shows will cap the night. But we also know of one longtime tradition in San Clemente that has been nixed this year: The city will no longer allow riding office chairs, surfboards or sofas down one of its steep streets on the holiday.

Have a great Fourth! See you here next Wednesday.


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