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Resigners: Goals fell to division

The nonprofit formed to buy and preserve the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa has virtually no chance of achieving its goal after community support dried up and four of its six members resigned, former and current foundation members said Wednesday.

Dale Dykema, Joyce Tucker, Gary Hayakawa and David Ellis have resigned their seats on the Orange County Fair & Event Center Foundation’s board of directors. Only Mary Young and Kristina Dodge, the foundation’s chair, remain.

Dodge is expected to release a statement today on the foundation board’s future.

With only two people left, the foundation’s options appear few: Give up trying to buy the 150-acre fairgrounds and do something else, or dissolve the foundation altogether.

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Dykema, who resigned in an e-mail three weeks ago, said he had doubts about the board’s prospect for success from the beginning.

“The nonprofit, initially, I didn’t think was going to go anywhere. I thought, ‘Fine, if you want go ahead, fine. But I don’t see much of a chance of it being accomplished,’” Dykema said. “Then when the opponents started beating on the politicians, it got to a point where there was no support anywhere except from the six of us board members.”

Because of California’s budget crisis, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger put the fairgrounds up for sale earlier this year. Local politicians scrambled to find a way to try and preserve the fairgrounds before it is sold next year to the highest bidder and possibly developed. The Orange County Fair Board created the nonprofit, which initially had support from the county Board of Supervisors and the Costa Mesa City Council, to try to buy the property, Ellis said.

Both he and Dykema said the momentum died, and that community support vanished. The mission for many in Orange County then turned to stopping the sale altogether.

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Dykema points to Orange County Marketplace president Jeff Teller and Orange County Board of Supervisor counsel Nicholas Crisos’ letter to the state attorney general and the district attorney as the catalyst for the foundation’s floundering.

Crisos wrote a letter calling for an investigation into the foundation’s activities, claiming there was corruption, conflicts of interest and violations of open meeting laws. The attorney general declined, citing a potential conflicts of interest in that office, and steered Crisos to the Orange County district attorney’s office.

Susan Schroeder, public affairs council for the district attorney’s office, said the office is investigating but waiting for Crisos to produce the evidence, which he said he has, to support his accusations. Meanwhile, the taxpayer continues to pay while her office waits, Schroeder said.

Ellis echoed Dykema’s criticisms of Teller. Both blamed him for rallying the owners of the Equestrian Center, the local employees’ union and swap meet vendors against the foundation. In his resignation letter, Ellis expressed regret and frustration.

“It was a noble goal, local control, operational efficiencies, and a sound business model that guaranteed a fair and community asset would be preserved, in perpetuity,” Ellis wrote. “Unfortunately, forces on the fairgrounds incorrectly felt threatened by our intentions. Call it paranoia, sweetheart deal protection, or plain old spite ... those entities turned the debate to the point where our one-time friends and potential partners (Costa Mesa and Orange County) have gone in a different direction.”

“I was not involved in the creation nor was I responsible for [the foundation’s] demise,” Teller said Wednesday.

He said that from the beginning his sole concern was preserving the marketplace, which under a new owner could be thrown out with only 90 days notice.

“No sale in my opinion was a safe sale. We were very concerned that there was no guarantee that the foundation was going to be the winning bidder,” Teller said. “They may have had the greatest intentions in the world but if they were not the highest bidder ... everyone was put at risk.”

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Teller had little to say about the foundation’s crumbling.

“Does it surprise me? It surprises me it took as long as it did.”

“He turns up the heat on us and does a damn good job of it,” Ellis said of Teller. “This, we thought, was an opportunity to extricate ourselves from the morass of the state.”

In his e-mail resigning from the foundation, Ellis had some choice words for the foundation’s appointments.

“I have been a Republican all my life, starting as a little kid walking precincts with my dad for Barry Goldwater ... I believed in deeply in the concept of local control. Not anymore,” Ellis wrote. “I hope the state retains ownership of the fairgrounds and we give everyone on the grounds enough government to choke a horse.”



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