Fair Board seeks exclusion from state bill

The Orange County Fair Board on Thursday directed its management to contact a state senator to see whether the fairgrounds can be excluded in his legislation to change the operation and funding of state-owned fairgrounds.

Senate Bill 741, whose lead author is Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Salinas), passed the Senate and is now making its way through the Assembly.

The Fair Board asked Chief Executive Doug Lofstrom to inquire whether the O.C. property — officially the 32nd District Agricultural Assn. — can be removed from the bill, which some Fair Board members and local activists viewed as another attempt to privatize the state-owned property.

The bill is intended to help other agricultural associations in California "deal with the new reality facing the network of California fairs as they exist today without state funding," an analysis from the Assembly's Committee on Governmental Organization says.

The proposal is an attempt to start moving fairs away from state oversight and providing them with some ability to operate more as private businesses or nonprofit agencies, according to the analysis.

"It is the author's belief that this bill will give fairs the necessary flexibility to operate more efficiently, save money and preserve jobs," the document states.

In July 2011, state officials with the Department of General Services canceled the effort to sell the Orange County Fairgrounds and other state properties, which had been put up for sale by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a way to help the ailing state budget.

Reggie Mundekis, a fairgrounds activist with the Orange County Fair Preservation Society, contended Thursday that the bill will lead to another effort to privatize fairgrounds.

Mundekis told the Fair Board that SB 741 could lead to the Orange County Fairgrounds being governed by a joint-powers authority or private foundation, both of which she termed "opaque."

"This [bill] is the first step to get out of government control," Mundekis said.

Board member Dave Ellis and Lofstrom countered that fair representatives and other stakeholders seem supportive of the bill.

"I don't know where the boogeyman is that Reggie's identified," Ellis said.

Ellis said he is in favor of the bill.

Member Gerardo Mouet said he didn't think Gov. Jerry Brown will OK the bill if it reaches his desk.

"Based on what I've seen from the governor," Mouet said, "if it's clear that it's just another way to sell fair lands, I would think that the governor wouldn't sign it."

In other business, the board appointed Stan Tkaczyk as chairman and Ashleigh Aitken as vice chairwoman.

Douglas La Belle had been serving as chairman, with Tkaczyk as his vice chairman.

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