Society files lawsuit against Fair Board

COSTA MESA — A grass-roots group wants a court order to stop the Orange County Fairgrounds from remodeling the Pacific Amphitheatre.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 20, the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society, an activist group comprised of local stakeholders, accuses the Fair Board of trying to expand the theater in phases that sidestep the limitations implemented in the fairgrounds' 2003 master plan and PacAmp's environmental impact report.

The board issued a notice of determination in late December, claiming the first phase of the project didn't violate either document, though critics allege it would be easy to quietly move forward with a full expansion if the board proceeds with it piece by piece.

The board claims that approving the project in phases spreads out the costs.

The Fair Board approved the first phase of the project to the tune of $4.5 million in September, with construction scheduled to begin in August.

Preservation Society member Greg Ridge told the Fair Board on Thursday that members are not wholly opposed to remodeling, but that they want to make sure officials consider the homes about 1,700 feet away that would be most affected by any increase in concert noise.

"We're not just some unpredictable lap dog that wants to bite your hand," Ridge said. "We're not the Orange County PacAmp Preservation Society. I don't care if you spend $18 million or $25 million. I don't care. Right now, there's no sense in rushing it. We want to make sure you get this right."

The filing in Orange County Superior Court is the latest in a string of PacAmp litigation stretching back to the venue's 1983 opening. Residents flooded the facility with complaints and lawsuits complaining about the noise.

The Fair Board bought the facility in 1995 and sued its previous owner, the Nederlander Organization, claiming the company didn't tell the board that local noise ordinances rendered the venue useless.

Costa Mesa assured residents that it would enforce the county's noise ordinance through at least 2023. Like the lawsuits of the past, concerns over noise are again at the center of the most recent debate.

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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