Letter: Don't sacrifice fair

COSTA MESA — Current and past Orange County Fair Board members sent an open letter to the California Legislature urging lawmakers to reject the fairgrounds' sale deal between the state, Costa Mesa and a real estate company, and calling it "deeply flawed."

The letter, signed by past board members Frank Barbaro, Ruben Smith, Pat Velasquez and Luis Pulido, and current board member David Padilla — the lone voice of opposition on the board — points out that if the state sells the fairgrounds to the city, the fairgrounds would become a "commercial operation."

"The initial reason for putting the fairgrounds on the market was to help solve the state's $20-billion budget deficit, yet this sale will have a negligible impact on that problem…," the letter states. "There are 58 counties in California, most with local county fairs, but now, only Orange County is being asked to sacrifice its fair."

The state has tentatively accepted Costa Mesa's $96-million offer for the fairgrounds, but the sale isn't final until the city and Facilities Management West, the company that will finance the purchase and operate the property, agree on a ground lease.

Opposition to the sale continues to grow as county residents fear for the future of the fairgrounds. Although the city has ensured that the 150-acre property would retain its fair and exposition use through voter-approved Measure C, Costa Mesa's deal with Facilities Management allows the group to "resize and relocate" on the property without approval from the city. Costa Mesa would have no day-to-day oversight of the operation, though it would benefit financially from it.

"Only the California Legislature can stop this folly and protect the O.C. Fair," the letter stated. "Only the Legislature can make sure that the civic benefit the fair has provided for 120 years is not swept away into the smoke and mirrors of last minute budget negotiations."

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana) has yet to commit to supporting the deal between the city and the state. Before sponsoring an Assembly bill that would allow the city and the state to finalize the sale, Solorio said he first has to meet with all interested groups to make a sound decision.

"I think there's an opportunity for everyone to mutually benefit and I'm encouraging everyone to continue addressing issues that are outstanding, including public oversight and governance," he said.

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