A Dark Deal in the Night: What’s Happening to the OC Fairgrounds

It was a dark and stormy Sacramento night…

Stormy, in that legislators were trying to reach a deal to pass a budget on a crazy July night. Amidst the mayhem and the deals, shadowy forces were planning a powerful land grab. They wanted the OC Fairgrounds and they were going to get it.

Sometime during that dark night, a deal was made, and language was inserted to budget bill AB4X22  that would allow the state to sell the Orange County Fairgounds, a public resource in the middle of Costa Mesa that actually makes money. It was said that the money from the sale would help the state balance the budget.

Most legislators had little knowledge of the deal and the public had no chance to cry foul. The bill passed on July 23rd and signed by the Governor on July 28th.  Only former OC Supervisor Jim Silva (AD-67) voted against the sale.

Turns out that the shadowy group was led by Fair Board members and their consultants, who wanted to form a private foundation to buy the Fair so they could operate it without public oversight and for their own profit.

This past week, OC Legislators have learned more about the deal, and discovered that all was not right. At the same time they were receiving hundreds of letters, calls, and faxes opposing the sale and met with a group of OC community leaders.

Now, one by one, they’ve come around and most of them are opposing the sale.

Governor Schwarzenegger appears to be the only one whose still in favor of the sale, and sources say it could be because he’s not getting the information and hasn’t seen the hundreds of letters and faxes his office has received opposing the sale.


The tide started to turn after OC Assemblymembers Jose Solorio and Van Tran held a public forum on the sale in Orange County in November. What they found was a community united in opposition to the sale.

Solorio sent a scathing letter to the governor in December, saying, “the process for carrying out the sale has been tainted by misinformation, misrepresentation, conflicts of interests, questionable legal and ethical activities, and that a potential constitutional barrier regarding the sale of the property exists.”

Solorio and Tran also introduced AB 1590 to stop the sale, which is now supported by Assemblymembers Diane Harkey, Jim Silva, Jeff Miller and State Senators Tom Harmon, Lou Correa and Mark Wyland.

The Attorney General’s office also took unprecendented action in December, cutting their ties to the OC Fair Board, which they normally represent.  In a letter to Kristina Dodge, Fair Board Chair, the Attorney general cited conflict of interest by the Fair Board in forming a private foundation to purchase the fairgrounds.

The only one still not getting it is the governor. Costa Mesa councilmembers met with the gorvernor and urged him to stop the sale,  but he was undeterred by their pleas. Councilwoman Katrina Foley expressed concerns with the governor over a loss of jobs, and losses to small businesses that operate at the fairgrounds.

Costa Mesa and nearly two dozen other Orange County cities have passed resolutions urging the governor to stop the sale.

But the sale is on for now. What happens next?

Bids were submitted for the sale on the Jan. 8th deadline. Bidders may include Orange County, a private foundation of Fair Board members as well as developers. Bids are scheduled to be opened on Jan 14th at the fairgrounds. After reviewing  the bids, there will be an auction. The department of General Services will then forward the bids and analysis to Schwarzenegger who will make the final decision, which some believe could come as early as Jan. 21st.

So opposition continues on two tracks: Solorio’s bill gets its first hearing on Tuesday. And there’s still time to change the governor’s mind. You can write, call or fax the governor asking him to STOP THE SALE of the OC Fairgrounds.

Governor’s Office: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger State Capitol Building Sacramento, CA 95814. Phone: 916-445-2841. Fax: 916-558-3160

The dirty deal needs to be stopped.