Community Commentary: It’s a fair time to remain optimistic


As the trailers hauling carnival rides pull into the Orange County Fairgrounds this week, I’m once again filled with anticipation.

The warm cinnamon rolls smothered in frosting. The new and interesting products pushed by their entrepreneurial creators. The community competitions for ribbons celebrating food, clothing, art — even table settings. The 4-H competitions.

My favorite things.

For me, a 38-year resident of Costa Mesa, the O.C. Fair marks the true beginning of summer. It’s a nearby gathering place for our friends and families to step away from the more serious worries of the day. The fair is a comfortable friend that reminds us of our agricultural and small-town roots, and makes us smile.

It wasn’t smiling eight months ago when I joined the city delegation going to Sacramento to plead with the state not to sell the fairgrounds to the highest bidder, thus putting in jeopardy the very existence of the annual fair.

We’ve been on a wild ride in the ensuing months, determined to do what we possibly could to save the fair, protect the integrity of the event center, and retain the important facilities and community activities that take place there throughout the year: Centennial Farm, the Equestrian Center, the Pacific Amphitheatre, the weekend O.C. Market Place, the Youth Expo and others.

We didn’t quit. It’s not in Costa Mesa’s DNA.

We were creative. We sought a solution — supported by voters who overwhelmingly approved Measure C — that would virtually guarantee that the O.C. Fair & Event Center continue to operate consistently with its traditions.

We sought and found a private investment partner who shared our vision, our approach, and helped us craft a purchase from the state — and lease agreement for the operation of the fairgrounds — that didn’t cost our beleaguered taxpayers a penny.

As the fair starts Friday, I am more optimistic than ever that we will succeed. We are 90% there. If we can pull together in unity, we can accomplish what some thought unattainable just weeks ago. An imaginative, positive, constructive outcome is within our grasp.

One year ago, the city of Costa Mesa had no say — zero — over the state-run fairgrounds.

If we successfully close the sale, the city will control use of the fairgrounds through the general plan, through binding agreements in our lease, and through the functioning of a joint powers authority. There’s no wiggle room for the biggest fear of all: new commercial and/or residential development unrelated to the fair and entertainment uses.

Additionally, we will enjoy for the first time an increasing revenue stream from the operations at the fairgrounds.

And at the end of the lease, our grandchildren will own the fairgrounds free and clear.

Yes, I have read the blogs and comments critical of many details of the agreements. I am saddened that our community is divided on this issue and that some even hope that the deal fails, or that the state legislators don’t pass the needed legislation to finalize the sale.

I don’t share these thoughts. I am optimistic. Considering that Costa Mesa put zero into the deal, it’s a remarkable achievement.

WENDY LEECE raised her family of five in Costa Mesa and is the city’s mayor pro tem.