Trouble at Trump rally prompts apology, criticism from Fair Board

A crowd blocks the street at the corner of Fairview Road and Fair Drive in Costa Mesa following a Donald Trump rally at the Orange County fairgrounds April 28.
(File photo / Daily Pilot)

The campaign for Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, might not be invited back to the OC Fair & Event Center anytime soon.

During their meeting Thursday, members of the Orange County Fair Board apologized to Costa Mesa neighbors who complained about helicopters flying over their homes for hours, snarled traffic, protests and vandalism stemming from Trump’s rally last month at the fairgrounds’ Pacific Amphitheatre, which drew thousands of his supporters and hundreds of opponents.

Minor scuffles and shouting matches were reported on the fairgrounds property between people with opposing political viewpoints, and on city streets nearby, there were incidents of vandalism against police vehicles and public property, and cars were trapped in gridlock.

“There are certain things that could have been done better and should have been done better,” said board member Ashleigh Aitken. “We were assured that the Costa Mesa Police Department, sheriff and Secret Service had met with the campaign and there was going to be adequate police presence, and that obviously didn’t happen. As a board member, I apologize because that shouldn’t have happened.”

OC Fair & Event Center Chief Executive Kathy Kramer said staff is working with the board and meeting with Costa Mesa city officials to determine the lessons that should be learned from the event with the goal of establishing new operating procedures that will help officials assess and manage future events.

Board Chairman Gerardo Mouet said it was a mistake for staff not to inform the board about the event before staff approved the contract and that it should have been understood that the rally would bring thousands of people to the area.

Several board members said staff needs to give more notice to the city and the Police Department before such large-scale events.

“There needs to be an improved level of communication,” Mouet said.

Several board members said there should have been a cap on the number of tickets issued for the rally. The Pacific Amphitheatre has 8,500 seats, and hundreds of people who had tickets were denied entry once the venue was full. Protesters and some Trump supporters who couldn’t gain entry then squared off outside.

Mouet said the event center’s tenant liaison committee should review the fairgrounds’ policies on third-party events and clarify language that gives staff and the board discretion to limit events that have the potential to cause significant community disruption and cost.

The board and staff can turn away events if they feel there is inadequate security or police resources to handle them, but they can’t limit them because of their content, according to board legal counsel.

The OC Fair & Event Center is still waiting to be paid $24,000 from the Trump campaign. The funds were for services ordered while Trump was on the property, including the use of additional equipment, forklift time, additional personnel for restroom maintenance and an additional charge from the fire marshal.

Trump’s campaign has already paid $39,670 for use of the amphitheater, according to the rental agreement.

Michele Richards, vice president of business development for the event center, said there’s no indication that Trump’s campaign is resisting paying the additional fees.

“It takes awhile after an event for us to gather all the additional expenses and get it invoiced to the promoter,” she said. “It’s a normal part of how we do business.”