The sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds has recently been a subject of great debate locally and in Sacramento. While proponents of the sale argue that it is in the best interest of California, I am very concerned that selling this asset may not be a good deal for taxpayers or the local community.
I was one of three legislators to vote against the sale in July because I don’t believe it makes sense to sell government-owned property in a down economy and a depressed real estate market when taxpayers clearly won’t get the best bang for their buck. In fact, the highest bid received for the fairgrounds was only $56.5 million, far short of what the governor had sought.
In addition, once the public loses open spaces in beaches, parks and fairgrounds, we will never get them back. Even if the state were to receive a decent bid on this asset, California may have a need for the land in the future and could wind up paying significant sums to rent it back. However you look at it, selling the fairgrounds just doesn’t make sense.
Thankfully, the Legislature now has a second chance to repeal the sale and protect the community and California taxpayers. Although the bidding deadline has passed and the sale is moving forward, the Legislature or the governor can still intervene and stop it before it is finalized. This is why I have joined with my Assembly colleagues to co-author Assembly Bill 1590, legislation that will stop this unwise sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds.
I believe that I can provide valuable insight on this matter since I have experience making difficult financial decisions involving selling off government-owned assets. When I was first elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 1994, we faced a similar situation due to the county bankruptcy that was declared just before I took office. While it was tempting to sell county-owned property to deal with our deficit, it simply wasn’t in the best interest of Orange County taxpayers. The public value of the county’s assets overwhelmingly outweighed the potential financial profits. We should follow the same caution today and reconsider this sale.
Generally, I agree that the state should consider selling high-value surplus property that is collecting dust with little public benefit. But the Orange County Fairgrounds provides year-round attractions for the community with expositions, the O.C. Fair, auctions, shows and farmers markets. Selling it would deprive the region of an important asset, and it would offer only one-time funds to the state.
The worst part of this situation is that it could have been avoided. Overspending by past Legislatures and the unwillingness to save excess tax revenues in a rainy-day fund has caused boom-and-bust budget cycles. Rather than constantly enacting one-time fixes like selling property, California must pass fundamental reforms that streamline government and root out waste, fraud and abuse.
JIM SILVA (R-Huntington Beach) represents the 67th District in the state Assembly.