State asserts power over fairgrounds

COSTA MESA — Asserting their authority over the Orange County Fairgrounds, state officials said Monday that they plan to continue efforts to sell the property.

Officials said the state has the legal authority to sell the fairgrounds, despite the recent speculation that two old documents suggest otherwise.

"We're confident that we have the legal authority to move forward with the transaction," said Eric Lamoureux, spokesman for the state Department of General Services.

Citing a quit-claim deed and 1949 newspaper brief, the Orange County Fair Board believes the state can't effect a sale because California's general funds were not used to buy the fairgrounds from the federal government in the mid-20th century.

According to the news brief, the OC Fair & Event Center, also called the 32nd District Agricultural Assn., paid $65,000 in that acquistion, and the remainder came from the state's fair and exposition fund.

Members of the Fair Board believe the news article also casts doubt on whether revenue from the sale should benefit the fairgrounds or the state's general fund.

A section of the Food and Agricultural Code states that the proceeds must go toward the fair and exposition fund and be paid to the association for permanent fair improvements.

As of Monday, the state had not officially responded to the board's request for clarification, said Steve Beazley, fairgrounds president and chief executive.

"We're moving forward with the transaction," Lamoureux said. "We believe once the transaction is completed, those issues will have resolved themselves."

Beazley said the response from General Services doesn't provide any clarification on the ownership or the role the board might have in the sale.

"I don't know what to make of that," he said. "This puts us in a peculiar position."

There might be a simple explanation that could resolve the issue, maybe a document, Beazley said.

"It's very difficult for us to chart out the next step until we hear back from the Department of General Services and the governor's office," he said.

At this point, the board is not considering a lawsuit to challenge the sale, Beazley said.

Costa Mesa has spent almost a year trying to buy the fairgrounds from the state. It partnered with Newport Beach-based Facilities Management West, a real estate company, to finance and operate the property.

But the deal hit a dead end when Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana), the point person expected to file the necessary legislation to finalize the sale, dropped his support.

Facilities Management announced Friday that it was one of the parties that submitted a bid to the state to buy the fairgrounds. DGS is expected to announce the number of bidders and the likely winner Oct. 14.

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