Community Commentary: 'We just won' by stopping fairgrounds sale

With the Orange County Fair now in full swing and the opening weekend drawing the largest first weekend attendance in fair history, it is hard to imagine that California's Department of General Services (DGS) actually was instructed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sell our precious 150 acres of traditional family fun to a private developer.

As it turns out, the governor's plan didn't materialize, but that end result was no accident. Since the Legislature passed a bill in July 2009 authorizing the sale of the fairgrounds as part of a good-faith effort to balance the 2009-10 budget, there has been a multi-faceted effort to convince two governors, an appellate court and legislators representing the rest of the state that the sale would not be in the best interest of Orange County, or even California.

From the O.C. Fair Board's attempt to form a private foundation to bid on the property shortly after Schwarzenegger signed that budget bill, to Friday's announcement that the sale is off, throngs of stop-the-sale supporters have been there every step of the way. The community activists who worked so hard to stop the sale proved that citizens can make a difference and their voices will be heard.

Early on in the fight, I hosted a public hearing in Costa Mesa to better understand how the public felt about the potential sale and how that process would work. The public clamor was deafening and we all learned about the flaws in the sale process. The hearing was jam-packed with concerned citizens, and shortly thereafter, my first attempt to pass legislation to stop the sale in early 2010 resulted in a wheelbarrow full of more than 50,000 postcards of support arriving at Schwarzenegger's office.

The outcries of condemnation continued loud and clear as public opposition to the sale resulted in the first auction's low-ball winning bid being thrown out, and then a critical milestone, Costa Mesa voters said yes to general-plan amendments to restrict fairground development. All along the way, this publication did a stand up job of covering breaking developments that kept stop-the-sale interests alive.

In addition to the public response, scores of community leaders worked overtime to stop the sale. Several Orange County city councils, including Costa Mesa's (under the leadership of former Councilwoman Katrina Foley and former City Manager Allan Roeder), and the Orange County Board of Supervisors adopted resolutions or took official actions denouncing the sale.

At the risk of failing to mention other important figures in this battle, I also want to acknowledge the skillful and diligent effort of Theresa Sears, Sandy Genis, Reggie Mundekis, and the entire Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society; Jeff Teller, owner of the Orange County Marketplace; Faubel Public Affairs; Wylie and Ashleigh Aitken and Ruben Smith, part of the hotshot team of attorneys that presented the case in court; my friends in the Sacramento office of Greenberg Traurig, LLP; the main O.C. fairgrounds employee group, SEIU 1000, represented by Randy Cheek and Nancy Farias; the Coast Community College Board of Trustees; my colleagues from the Orange County legislative delegation who co-sponsored my legislation and openly voiced their opposition; and the Orange County blogosphere. They all contributed mightily to the stop-the-sale effort.

As a result, my current legislation, Assembly Bill 35, once a bill that would have offered an alternative to selling the Orange County Fairgrounds through a revenue-sharing agreement, now can be a vehicle for legislation that could benefit all fairs. I have already offered the bill to the governor's office as a way to incorporate any suggestions that his network of fairs task force may have. In the new reality of limited state resources, I hope to find a lasting solution to keep all fairs in California viable for future generations to come.

For the record (please take note, Costa Mesa Mayor Gary Monahan), community leaders and I never abandoned our quest to stop the sale and never stopped working toward the end result — to keep the fairgrounds in public hands. Need proof? It is in the pudding — we just won! Congratulations to all and thank you for a job well done.

JOSE SOLORIO is a state assemblyman whose district includes Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana.

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