Fair Board opposes privatization of grounds


The Orange County Fair Board made its sentiments clear once again Thursday: It would not support any privatization efforts of fairgrounds properties.

The board voted during its monthly meeting to introduce a bill that would prevent such privatization attempts from occurring in California. Vice Chairwoman Ashleigh Aitken was absent.

The board members didn’t delve into specifics of the legislation’s contents or how it would move through Sacramento lawmakers, but asked that Western Fairs Assn., a lobbyist group, provide help as well.

Director Gerardo Mouet suggested getting California’s agricultural interests involved in the effort, because fairgrounds properties, like Orange County’s, celebrate agricultural history and tradition.

“The fairs celebrate their contributions to the community, and I believe if they would support this type of legislation, it would be a very significant help,” he said

Fairgrounds activist Theresa Sears — who served on an investigatory committee that was critical of the 2009 failed attempt to privatize the state-owned, 150-acre fairgrounds — applauded the board’s decision.

The sentiment should be about explaining to the public why fairgrounds exist and why they are publicly owned assets, she said.

“I think we have to take the leadership role,” Sears said. “I don’t think it should be driven, sort of, behind the scenes. I think it should be an open process.”

Fairgrounds CEO Doug Lofstrom said in recent conversations he’s had with Western Fairs, the association seems supportive.

“They are interested in helping us as best as they possibly can,” he said.

Director Nick Berardino was skeptical of Western Fairs, saying there is “significant suspicion and concern” about the group’s intentions.

The board also voted to support the repeal of Assembly Bill X4 22, which permitted the fairgrounds sale attempt that ultimately was rejected by 2012.

Earlier this summer, in keeping with the sentiment to have fairgrounds remain publicly owned, the board said it would not support AB 2490 introduced by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton).


New fair theme, amphitheater seats

Fairgrounds officials also announced the theme for the 2015 summertime fair: “One. Big. Party.” The intent is to celebrate the property’s 125th anniversary.

The fair is scheduled to go from July 17 to Aug. 16, with 23 days of operation.

The board also approved initial funding, $41,840, toward replacing the seats in the Pacific Amphitheatre. The money will help with design work surveying services.

The estimated $1.3-million replacement effort will be complex, officials said, because it will require state approvals and new modifications for the concert venue toward compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The amphitheater opened in 1983 and has a capacity of about 8,500.

Officials said the seats have been used beyond their 25-year life span.

A separate construction project for the venue’s new entrance plaza is ongoing.