California Assembly Bill 1590, which many people in Orange County were counting on to save their fairgrounds, has been dealt a setback.
Assemblymen Jose Solorio and Van Tran decided to pull AB1590 off the Assembly floor because its language no longer calls for the sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds to be stopped. The bill’s text now reads that the 150-acre property in Costa Mesa should be sold at high value.
AB1590, which was designed to rescind an earlier bill that authorized the sale, was scheduled to go on the Assembly floor this week.
But while it was going through the assembly’s appropriation committee a week ago, the bill was stripped of the wording that spelled out its original intentions: to stop the sale of the fairgrounds.
The bill went to the Appropriations Committee and then it went to the suspension file, where bills usually die, but it came out of the file the same day with the committee voting unanimously for it; however, it was amended, Solorio said.
“The appropriation staff was worried that if our bill went out in its original language that they were condoning the elimination of $56.5 million that could help fund the budget deficit,” Solorio said.
Solorio said he intends to reintroduce a stronger bill with the original language of AB1590 to repeal the sale of the fairgrounds. He said the next bill could have more options such as language to stop the sale, a requirement to keep the land for fair and exposition use, or ensure that if it is sold, there’s a minimum amount that the state can get from it.
The fairgrounds was auctioned off earlier this month for $56.5 million to Craig Realty Group, an outlet developer based in Newport Beach. But the fairgrounds is not yet sold. The California Department of General Services, which is in charge of selling the property, is now analyzing whether selling the fairgrounds is beneficial to the state. It will make a decision by April.
Solorio and Tran are also working on one or two more “practical” solutions to try to resolve the issues surrounding the sale of the fairgrounds. Solorio, however, would not give details as to what type of solutions he could introduce, saying he will announce his plans in the next week or two.
Meanwhile, an official with the Department of General Services acknowledged Friday that the department never appraised the fairgrounds to determine how much it’s worth.
“We don’t do that,” said Jeffrey Young, a department spokesman. “That’s not how the state of California sells property. We get economic analysis of a piece of property. We have economic analysis and generally allow the market to bid on a property.”
The department estimated that the fairgrounds is worth $96 million, with no entitlement from the city, and $180 million, with entitlement or support from the city, Young said. Entitlement provides property owners with authorization from the city to build certain projects.
The estimation was done in January or February of last year, he said.
Young said the state Assembly did not ask for an appraisal of the fairgrounds in its legislative direction to sell the fairgrounds.
The state often appraises low-valued property, but not high-valued ones, Young said.
Asked how would the state determines whether a property is high or low value, Younger responded: “It’s pretty obvious.”
“San Quentin, high,” he said. “Orange County is clearly high. An old parking lot that was used for construction trucks is low value.”
That is another reason why the sale of the fairgrounds isn’t done in the best interest of the people, Solorio said.
“It’s problematic because we didn’t have a minimum bid requirement, and since we don’t have an appraisal for the property, we’re not in a good position to know whether it’s wise for the state to sell the property or not,” he said.
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