Monahan: Solorio ‘abandoned us’

COSTA MESA — With a public purchase for the Orange County Fairgrounds being discussed in Sacramento and the merits of a private sale being argued in court Friday, Costa Mesa Mayor Gary Monahan added his two cents this week and sent out a thanks-for-nothing letter criticizing Assemblyman Jose Solorio’s role in all of it.

“He originally voted to authorize the sale,” Monahan wrote of the Anaheim Democrat. “He worked closely with our city to help us fashion a memorandum of understanding with the winning bidder that met all his stated goals and objectives with respect to continuing employment for state workers at the fairgrounds.”

Solorio introduced legislation last month that could keep the fairgrounds in public hands and share profits with the state.

“Having achieved these concessions, he abandoned us — and the sale — and now has embraced the status quo, with added uncertainty for our city and the future of those fairgrounds,” Monahan wrote. “To say the least, it has been puzzling and discouraging to us.”

Monahan sent the letter to Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), chairman of the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, who with other committee members were expected to discuss Solorio’s Assembly Bill 35 on Wednesday.

The committee instead will discuss the bill next week, after a court hearing Friday over a pending sale to Newport Beach-based Facilities Management West, Solorio said.

Monahan took exception with AB 35, which in broad terms proposes a profit-sharing deal between the Orange County Fair Board and the state if the 150-acre property remains in the state Fair Board’s hands.

“The bill has no definitions in it. There’s so much in that bill that’s wide open it doesn’t make any sense,” Monahan said. “It’s a PR stunt by Solorio. I know I’m being pretty blunt … he knows I don’t like him.”

Solorio said he’s consistently stood behind public ownership of the fairgrounds, which were originally put up for sale in 2009 to help the state’s massive budget deficit. He blamed the governor’s office for killing the private-public partnership with Costa Mesa because of a clause about retiring employees.

“With respect to [AB 35] being general, it’s meant to be general and it’s equal in authority to the authorization of what the sale language is,” Solorio said. “It’s not meant to have too many more conditions. We don’t want to hamstring negotiations with the governor and the Fair Board and its agents.”

Thursday, Solorio fired back at Monahan and the City Council.

“Rather than pointing blame at their city employees and state legislators, I believe the City Council needs to focus on delivering quality city services to its residents,” he said. “The council seems to have lost it’s way, but I’m hopeful its residents will get them re-focused back to city basics.”

In his criticism, Monahan threw his support behind the private sale of the fairgrounds to Newport Beach-based Facilities Management West, or FMW, which will argue its case who will argue their case for a sale in the Court of Appeal in Santa Ana on Friday.

A lower court put a hold on the FMW deal when a competing developer — Jeff Teller, of American Fairs and Festivals, which runs the swap meet — and Solorio, among others, challenged the sale’s legality of the sale. A three-judge panel will hear arguments on why the stay on the sale should remain or be lifted.

“At least under the private sale that is close to being completed, our city would exert considerable land use control, subject the fairgrounds to local ordinances, and share in the $1 million in property tax the private owners would pay for the first time,” Monahan said. “I must confess some irritation that we find ourselves at this point, threatened by a half-baked, economically questionable and pie-in-the-sky alternative that potentially makes things worse for the city.”

FMW spokesman Guy Lemmon said, “The mayor makes a forceful case for why the sale is in the best interest of the citizens of Costa Mesa. AB 35 would continue the status quo of ultimate state responsibility for a non-revenue generating, non-essential state enterprise, but with even less taxpayer control.”

In November, Costa Mesa voters approved Measure C, which limits the use of the property to remain the fairgrounds. That measure wouldn’t be in effect if the fairgrounds remained publicly owned.

Gov. Jerry Brown has withdrawn support from selling some state property, but hasn’t made a definitive statement when it comes to Orange County’s fairgrounds. His predecessor, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, supported selling state assets.