Group wants Ellis off Fair Board

COSTA MESA — It seems all the dust hasn't settled from the state's failed attempt to sell the Orange County Fairgrounds and the Fair Board's effort to buy it in 2009.

The Orange County Fair Preservation Society, a grass-roots group of residents and various fairgrounds stakeholders, is circulating a petition that calls for Gov. Jerry Brown to remove David Ellis from the Fair Board.

"We just feel that we can't really turn our backs on what occurred with the fairgrounds," said society member Greg Ridge, referring to Ellis' role in creating a nonprofit to buy the 150-acre property after it went for sale in 2009. "We feel that he's lost the trust [of the public]."

The petition began circulating about a month ago, but its backers did not know Tuesday how many people had signed it.

Ellis was appointed in 2007 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"A couple of angry elitist gadflies don't concern me," Ellis said. "We had 1.4 million people attend last year's fair … we had a record year last year in all aspects. I may have lost the trust of the 85 people who own horses at the Equestrian Center, but I'm doing good."

The Equestrian Center and its tenants have claimed for years that Ellis wants to get rid of them; Ellis tries to discount theirs as a minority opinion.

According to the governor's office, a Fair Board appointee can only be removed if he or she misses three meetings in a row without the board's permission, or is convicted of a felony. An appointment cannot be reversed.

"I don't know what the purpose of the petition is," Ellis said. "They're term appointments, so I serve for four years regardless of petitions and people being upset or people not liking me."

Ellis is set to serve through 2014.

The petition says Ellis pushed a former state lawmaker to lobby for the fairgrounds' sale and ignored the public's pleas to stop it.

Among the Fair Preservation Society's criticism is the board's vote last year to kill the weekend swap meet operator's lease at the fairgrounds. That vote was reversed and the swap meet run by Jeff Teller is slated to stay, but the activists called the initial vote retaliatory.

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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