$100 Million Orange County Fairgrounds Sale OK'd by State, But Fight is Just Beginning

The state is moving forward with plans to the sell the Orange County Fairgrounds to Facilities Management West, a Newport Beach-based company formed solely to operate the 150-acre property, for $100 million, officials disclosed today.

To say the sale, which is aimed at easing California's budget woes, has produced an outcry would be an understatement.

Check out the lead paragraph of the response to the sale emailed to reporters today from the Orange County Fair Preservation Society (OCFPS):

Faceless bureaucrats in Sacramento's Department of General Services (DGS) office ignored the direct impassioned plea of tens of thousands of residents and recommended that the Governor sell off the Orange County Fairgrounds for 25 cents on the dollar. For the past year the Governor has been inundated with phone calls, letters and resolutions opposing the sale from thousands of residents as well as 26 Orange County cities and nearly every state legislator in Orange County-Republican and Democrat. It remains to be seen if the Governor will listen to the people of Orange County-once considered his base of support.

Meanwhile, state Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana), whose district includes the site that has hosted the annual Orange County Fair since 1949, issued a statement of his own saying he believes the fairgrounds should remain under public ownership and that he will introduce legislation in December to block the transaction.

New owners on the way?

"I expect strong bipartisan support for the bill," Solorio states. "And come January, we will have a new governor that will be open to hearing our county's interests."

Conservative Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, who previously predicted the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, has previously shared his many concerns about the long-term viability of the deal, which he worries may come back to bite state taxpayers.

Opposition has also been aired by the state-appointed Orange County Fair Board, Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Katrina Foley and Tel-Phil Enterprises, which operates the Orange County Market Place that runs weekends on the fairgrounds and which previously bid on the property.

Jeffrey Teller, the Tel-Phil president, has helped bankroll the OCFPS, which noted in today's response that Gary Hunt, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's former campaign finance chair, was hired by Facilities Management West to "assist" in the transaction.

Sandra Genis
, the former Costa Mesa mayor who serves as president of the OCFPS, said the deal may represent political payback for Schwarzenegger. "Serious questions remain as to property title and constitutional issues, yet the governor continues to push forward with the sale and thwart the will of the people," says Genis in the statement. "It thus seems increasingly likely the proposed sale would be wrapped up in litigation for years to come, further depleting state resources due to attorneys' fees."

But Ron Diedrich, the acting director of the state Department of General Services (DGS) that administered the sale at Schwarzenegger's urging, characterized the deal as a slam-dunk for revenue-strapped California. Facilities Management West will pay $20 million up front, and the remaining $80 million over 35 years. With interest, the $80 million will generate $222,620,698 for the state, according to DGS.

"This sale creates a new revenue stream to help shore up the state budget and prevent further cuts to programs or the need to raise taxes," Diedrich said. "We've truly earned the highest and most certain return for California taxpayers."


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