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‘Hands off,’ fair board is told

A phone call Wednesday evening made it clear that the Orange County Fair Board should no longer discuss a profit-sharing model in order to keep the fairgrounds in state hands.

On one end of the phone call was a state official. On the other was Fair Board Chairwoman Kristina Dodge, who was told to take the item off the agenda.

“Yesterday, we received a call from Sacramento asking not to take action on this item,” she said during Thursday’s board meeting. “So, out of respect, we will take it off, and we will continue it to another day.”

Dodge would not say who called her from Sacramento, but she said if she had to guess why they asked her to remove the agenda item, it’s probably because the state is now in negotiations to sell the fairgrounds to Costa Mesa.

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The phone call came on the same day city officials handed off a $96-million proposal to buy the fairgrounds — money the city doesn’t have, and has yet to explain how such a purchase would be made.

Aside from placing the agenda item for an open session discussion, as part of the board’s regular monthly meeting, a closed session was also scheduled for the fair board to hash out the details of the profit-sharing proposal. But that too was canceled.

Sharing the fairgrounds’ profits with the state would keep the 150 acres under the ownership of California, guarantee the jobs of its employees and preserve its history and use, said Steve Beazley, fairgrounds president and chief executive.

Although details of a profit-sharing proposal have not been discussed in public, Beazley said that the proposal would guarantee the state at least the minimum amount it is looking for over a number of years, which is $96 million.

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Unlike the city, which had to make more cuts to balance the budget, the fairgrounds has no shortage of funds. The fairgrounds’ cash on hand, as of March, is $7.4 million.

Meanwhile, the board also heard from vendors and partners who use the fairgrounds, as well as its employees. The meeting was standing-room only.

“Over the course of the past year, you have heard countless public comments from bloggers, neighbors, tenants, promoters and other community representatives regarding the future of the fairgrounds,” said an emotional Teresa Mason, a 25-year employee with the fairgrounds who spoke on behalf of her fellow workers. “There is one voice that you have not yet heard from ... and that is the voice of the employees of the O.C. Fair.

“In 2009, we produced one of the most successful fairs in the O.C Fair’s 120-year history, despite the economy, and rumors of our uncertain future swirling around,” Mason said. “And we’re ready to do it again in 85 days when the 2010 O.C. Fair opens.”

Karen McGill, executive director of Share Our Selves, a nonprofit that uses the fairgrounds as a food and gifts drop-off site for one of its programs, also spoke about the need to secure the future of the fairgrounds.

Bob Templeton of Crossroads of the West Gun Shows, one of the fairgrounds’ vendors that holds five gun shows a year, also said he’s concerned about not being able to sign a new contract for this November’s and next year’s shows.

“Our vendors are starting to get nervous, too, because they don’t have a commitment from us,” Templeton said. “I want to encourage each one of you to do whatever you can so Crossroads of the West and others can go ahead and schedule the events.”

When the state placed the fairgrounds up for sale in October in an effort to shore up revenues, it also put a hold on all future events scheduling.

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The Department of General Services, which is in charge of selling the fairgrounds, estimated it would make between $96 million and $180 million from the sale of the fairgrounds. In March, the California rejected all bids as too low.

It’s not clear when or if the fair board can discuss the profit-sharing proposal.

Dodge said that it is the board’s responsibility to do what is best for the employees and the fair and presenting a profit-sharing proposal is one option.

“We’re just doing our job to try to preserve the O.C. Fair & Event Center,” she said.



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