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City, county put in joint bid

Orange County and Costa Mesa city officials have placed a joint bid on the Orange County Fairgrounds.

The deadline for submitting bids to the state has been extended to 5 p.m. Monday. Officials wouldn’t reveal a dollar amount on the joint offer.

People will find that out only when bids on the state-owned property are opened at a live auction at the fairgrounds. As of last week, according to city and state officials, that event was to happen at 10 a.m. Thursday, at 88 Fair Drive.

The joint bid, which was submitted to the state Tuesday, is just one of many moves in an ongoing saga of the city and county’s efforts to preserve those 150 acres in Costa Mesa for use as a fair and exposition center.

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“No one understands yet the enormity of this undertaking,” said City Manager Allan Roeder.

California’s Department of General Services put the fairgrounds up for sale in October, after the state Assembly authorized its sale in July as part of a plan to liquidate high-valued state owned properties to help close the state’s budget deficit. On Friday, which was the original deadline for submitting initial bids, the department’s offices were closed because of state-mandated furloughs.

Although several state-owned properties were proposed for the auction block by Schwarzenegger, the Orange County fairgrounds was the only one put up for sale. State officials hope to bring in between $90 million and $180 million.

There’s no guarantee that the county and city together will place a winning bid. Although the state will not announce who put in offers on the fairgrounds until the day of the auction, at least two other parties have made their intentions known.

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The Orange County Fair and Exhibit Center Foundation, formed by directors of the OC Fair & Event Center, the fair’s governing board, has indicated that it would bid for it and run the property as a nonprofit organization, much like the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona. And Richard Julian, one of two partners at Lake Forest-based Advanced Real Estate Services, has also expressed his intention to bid.

But even if the county and city come out as the highest bidders, much remains unclear about how they plan to run the fairground site. According to the memorandum of understanding between the county and the city, the county is the lead agent representing both parties in a prospective joint purchase.

“Generally speaking, the focus of both the city and the county is to retain the fair and exposition center,” Roeder said. “It’s fair to say that we are not submitting a bid because either agency is actively interested in taking the day to day operation of the fair and exposition center.”

Talks between the city and county on how each would run the fairgrounds are underway. There is a variety of options, but none have been thoroughly researched at this point, Roeder said. The city and the county could potentially contract out the operation of the fairgrounds, or strike a deal with its employees to have them run it, he said.

Jeff Teller, president of the Orange County Market Place, which runs the weekend swap meets at the fairgrounds, said he supports the city and the county’s efforts to buy the property.

“They will provide the most transparency to the community,” he said.

Should the city and county fail in their joint bid, the city still has the power over how the property is used. Any attempt to change its zoning must be cleared by the city.

Costa Mesa also is working on putting the issue of locking in the fairgrounds’ use on the June ballot. A ballot measure would spell out what can and what can’t be done with the fairgrounds. So far, the city has spent less than $20,000 on trying to stop the sale and preserve the property for fair and exposition use, Roeder said.

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No one knows yet how much the city would spend if the state declares its joint offer with the county the winning bid. Yet, an intelligent guess would put the clinching bid easily in the range of at least seven to eight digits.

Should the council vote in February to place a measure on the ballot, the cash-strapped city would be looking at sinking another $130,000 to put the issue of the land use in front of voters.

Fairgrounds Sale Timeline

EDITOR’S NOTE: All events took place between July and December 2009.

July

 The state Assembly votes to sell the Orange County Fairgrounds.

October

 The state puts the Orange County Fairgrounds up for sale.

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 Six members of the fairgrounds’ board of directors form a nonprofit foundation to raise funds for purchasing the fairgrounds.

 The county Board of Supervisors announces its intention to explore a fairground purchase.

 The Costa Mesa City Council announces its intention to explore a purchase.

 Nicholas Chrisos, the Orange County counsel, sends a letter to the state attorney general’s office, asking for an investigation of the fairgrounds’ board members. The office turns down Chrisos’ request.

November

 Senior Assistant Atty. General Gary Schons turns down Chrisos’ request, saying his office cannot investigate the fairgrounds while serving as its counsel.

 The Costa Mesa City Council begins exploring its options to place the fairgrounds’ land use on the June ballot.

 The Costa Mesa City Council passes a resolution asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to cancel the proposed sale of the fairgrounds.

 The County Board of Supervisors passes a resolution asking the governor to cancel the sale.

December

 Councilwomen Katrina Foley and Wendy Leece travel to Sacramento to reiterate the council’s position on the sale of the fairgrounds.

 Assemblyman Jose Solorio introduces Assembly Bill 1590 to cancel the sale of the fairgrounds.

November and December

 Four members from the private nonprofit foundation resign.



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