Noise and parking are the top concerns at a meeting about fairgrounds’ future

Almost 100 people who put their heads together Monday night to help brainstorm about the future of the OC Fair & Event Center presented ideas on everything from noise and parking to energy sources and women’s restrooms.

The meeting in The Hangar, a fairgrounds concert venue, was held as officials develop a 10-year master plan for the property at 88 Fair Drive in Costa Mesa. It gave the public a chance to offer thoughts and visions, said Ken Karns, vice president of operations at the Fair & Event Center.

“This is about getting info from you to help us develop what will ultimately be a master site plan,” he told the crowd. “There isn’t a preconceived notion of what that master site plan is. We want to hear from you.”

To kick off the meeting, visitors used their cellphones to answer some basic survey questions, such as how often they visit the annual Orange County Fair or other events at the fairgrounds and what they feel are the property’s biggest assets and challenges.

Later, the crowd broke into small groups to discuss their thoughts about the site as it exists today and their ideas for how it should develop.

Those in attendance said traffic and noise are among the fairgrounds’ biggest drawbacks. Some suggested building a new garage somewhere on the property to alleviate parking woes.

Others said they’d like the Fair & Event Center to make wider use of renewable energy sources such as wind or solar and prioritize community-based and educational programs over commercial events.

One woman said there’s a pressing need for more ladies’ restrooms during the summer fair. The suggestion drew murmurs of agreement from other guests.

Lynne Coenen, a resident of the College Park neighborhood, said she’d like to see additional perimeter buffers to better shield nearby homes from fairgrounds noise.

Another idea, she added, is to reconfigure the site so more events and parking are on the eastern side of the property, nearest Newport Boulevard.

“I am not opposed to growth,” she said in an interview after the meeting. “I am not opposed to the fair. But I want it to work well for everybody. I don’t want to feel like I’m living in downtown L.A. next to the Coliseum.”

Nick Berardino, chairman of the nine-member Fair Board that oversees the property, said he and his colleagues want to make sure “we do something that’s bigger and broader and have a broader vision than just the fair and the events that we hold on weekends.”

The board’s vision, he said, is centered on “filling the gaps in our community and in our state that exist for young people in terms of their education.”

“Some say that’s a very big vision and a very big dream,” he added. “But if we don’t have a big vision and we don’t have big dreams, then we’ll never accomplish them.”

Monday’s meeting was the sixth this year held to collect input about the master site plan, according to Karns.

Previous meetings included workshops with the Fair Board, Fair & Event Center staff, grounds vendors and user groups and neighbors such as the city of Costa Mesa and Orange Coast College.

All the feedback will be reviewed and considered as part of the master plan. The goal is to have the plan ready for Fair Board review later this year.

For more information about the process or to submit comments, visit

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