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College district could go in on fairgrounds

The Coast Community College District board of trustees is weighing an option of joining the city of Costa Mesa and the county to purchase the Orange County Fairgrounds if the state goes through with selling the 150-acre property, the college district’s board president said.

“We are definitely looking into what the city of Costa Mesa and the county are suggesting, and we want to be part of that,” said Jerry Patterson, the board president. “It’s day one. But we are very interested.

“The fact is, the board of Coast Community College is very concerned about the possible sale of the Orange County fairgrounds.”

Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, one of the community colleges in the district, has worked with the fairgrounds for years. The college holds its graduation ceremonies at the Orange County Fair & Event Center, also called the fairgrounds. The college and the center also have an agreement that allows students to use the fairgrounds’ parking lot.

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It’s not clear how much it would cost the college district to enter into a Joint Powers Agreement with the city and county to purchase the fairgrounds, Patterson said, because the district has only just begun exploring the idea.

“If the price is right and there’s a three-way split of some sort, it could be doable,” Patterson said.

When questioned about prospects for a deal among the county, city and college, County Supervisor John Moorlach would not confirm that such talks were underway, but that the county and the city are considering a joint purchase.

“We’re a community concerned about the fair and everyone is extending a hand,” Moorlach said.

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Meanwhile, Kristina Dodge, who chairs both the Fair & Event Center’s Board of Directors and the board of a foundation — which was recently formed by Dodge and five of the center’s other directors to buy the fairgrounds and preserve it as a fair — announced Thursday that the foundation is ready to place a bid on the property.

This comes, however, as the foundation appears to be teetering after four of its six founding board members resigned in recent weeks.

“As foundation members, Mary Young and I will stay very connected to sale process and be ready to take any action necessary to keep the foundation’s pledge of preserving the fair,” Dodge said in an e-mail. Dodge did not return calls seeking answers to more questions.

Dodge and Young are the two members left after fellow foundation trustees Dale Dykema, David Ellis, Joyce Tucker and Gary Hayakawa resigned.

Hayakawa said he no longer felt that people were behind the foundation’s original goal, which was to purchase the fairgrounds and run it as a nonprofit, private entity much like the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona.

In her e-mail, Dodge said the foundation is not opposed to canceling the proposed sale and would support Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whether he goes through with the sale or cancels it.

The resignations came during widespread public criticism of the foundation by people suspecting its board members’ intentions toward the fairgrounds.

They also came after Nicholas Chrisos, the counsel to the county Board of Supervisors, sent a letter to the state attorney general’s office asking for an investigation into the activities of the foundation’s board of directors. Chrisos alleged in the letter that these included a violation of open meeting laws, corruption and conflict of interest.

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Although the attorney general’s office turned down Chrisos’ request, the county district attorney is investigating the activities of the fairgrounds’ board, said Susan Schroeder, public affairs counsel at the D.A.’s office.

Chrisos now has instructed the five supervisors to not interact with members of the Orange County Fairgrounds’ board of directors, Moorlach confirmed in a phone interview Thursday.

Brooke De Baca, a county spokeswoman, said Thursday that Chrisos could not comment because of attorney-client privilege.

“This has been one of the more heart-rending directives that I have received, as many of the Fair Board members are longtime dear friends,” Moorlach said in an e-mail Wednesday.

Moorlach wouldn’t say more or explain what was behind the counsel’s directive.



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