Clarification sought on fairgrounds sale

Editor's note: This corrects Greg Ridge's first name.

COSTA MESA — The state-appointed Orange County Fair Board on Friday called on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to clarify the state's role in the potential sale of the fairgrounds.

A 1949 Los Angeles Times newspaper clip and a quitclaim deed, a title document, that were found by fairgrounds staff suggest that the 32nd District Agricultural Assn., which makes up the governing body of the fairgrounds, paid half of the money — $65,000 — to buy the 150-acre property in 1949 from the federal government.

The other half was paid by California's fair and exposition fund, money generated from horseracing.

No state general funds were applied to the purchase of the fairgrounds, which arguably means the fairgrounds, and the association that governs it, is a separate entity from the state, said fairgrounds attorney Steven Edwards.

"If I can make one piece of advice for this Fair Board, I recommend that you hire a historian," said Greg Ridge, a Costa Mesa resident, who's been an outspoken opponent of the sale.

The documents raise questions as to whether the board must approve any pending sale, and if the proceeds of the sale must go toward the fairgrounds' funds versus the state's general funds. A section of the Food and Agricultural Code indicates that if the property is sold, the proceeds must be transferred into the fair and exposition fund and be paid to the association for permanent fair improvements.

Edwards said further analysis is needed to get a clear answer and determine whether the board will challenge the state's attempt to sell the property. The state put the fairgrounds back up for sale in August and is asking for a minimum of $96 million to help shore up funds for its ailing budget. The deadline for interested parties to make an offer is Sept. 30.

Edwards said the state can easily answer all of these questions.

The new developments, however, point to the continuing complexity of the proposed sale, and the challenges it might pose for a new buyer, who might be able to obtain the proper title of the property without the board's approval.

They are also a clear sign that the sale should be stopped, said state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), who attended the meeting.

"These are significant developments," he said. "It reinforces my position that Orange County residents should have a stronger voice and a say-so on the sale of this jewel of Orange County."

City Manager Allan Roeder, whose city is working with a Newport Beach private real estate company, Facilities Management West, to buy the fairgrounds for $96 million, said the news doesn't change any of the city's position because as of right now, these questions haven't been fully answered.

But, he added, that they are important and interesting questions that need to be answered.

The sale to the city is stalled pending the California Legislature's approval. Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana), who also attended the board meeting, once supported the city's efforts to buy the fairgrounds, but recently dropped his support.

"That deal is dead," said Fair Board member David Ellis.

Along with formally asking the governor's office to respond to the fairgrounds' analysis, Fair Board member Dale Dykema also said the fairgrounds' profit-sharing proposal with the state will have to be revisited.

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