COSTA MESA — Calling the city's leadership untrustworthy, Orange County Fair Board member Nick Berardino managed to extricate Costa Mesa city officials from the fairgrounds' negotiations with a classic car auction that seeks to expand its relationship with the fairgrounds.
Berardino, head of the Orange County Employees Assn. (OCEA) that's supporting a lawsuit over planned layoffs against Costa Mesa City Hall, said the city should be only be consulted about a long-term deal between the state-owned fairgrounds and the Barrett-Jackson car auction, but not have a seat at the table.
City CEO Tom Hatch spoke at Thursday morning's meeting and said the city can partner with the fair and classic car auction company to notify affected neighborhoods and create buzz for the event.
"Are you comfortable with that?" Fair Board Chairwoman Joyce Tucker asked Berardino.
"I'm not comfortable doing business with the city under any circumstances, and anyone who is has their eyes closed," Berardino answered. "This is very important to me. This is not an organization that anyone on this board should feel comfortable dealing with. Believe me."
OCEA and the Costa Mesa City Council have been divided since March, when the council voted to lay off nearly 40% of its workforce — a majority of it under OCEA's purview. Employees in turn sued, and the case is headed toward a trial next spring.
Fair staff had recommended that Costa Mesa city officials sit at the negotiating table while the board works out a five-year deal to bring Barrett-Jackson to Orange County.
Board member David Ellis, who more often than not disagrees with Berardino's stances, sided with him Thursday. In a unanimous vote, the board voted to move forward with Barrett-Jackson negotiations, agreeing to keep Costa Mesa in the loop but not partner with it.
It was the second time Thursday that Berardino's distrust for Costa Mesa leaders played a role in the meeting.
Board members had to assure Berardino that the city has no role in its proposal to cement the board's plans for the $4.5-million first phase of the Pacific Amphitheatre's renovation.
The Fair Board voted to move forward with the project, even as legal challenges waited on the horizon. Community members are preparing to fight over the venue's remodeling, which some claim would violate a previous environmental impact report and create more noise in the area.
"This is headed for an EIR lawsuit," Ellis told the Fair Board's attorney, "so make us as bullet-proof as possible."