At its monthly meeting last Thursday morning, the board of directors of the Orange County Fair & Event Center announced its pledge to work to prevent the sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds. That would be the same board which, a year and nine months prior, on July 21, 2009, secretly created a non-profit foundation in hopes of purchasing (and privatizing) the 150 acres of land.
David Ellis, the chair of the board, was quick to point out that this isn't new news. "It was a reiteration of our previous position," he said, alluding to a revenue sharing proposal that had been announced on Jan. 27, which would keep the fairgrounds in public control.
For those who have been against and working to stop the sale since Gov. Schwarzenegger first made the recommendation in May 2009, the newfound position is too little, too late.
Another opponent to the sale can only help the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society, but this partner isn't the type the group would count on for heaving lifting in the matter.
"If they're sincerely interested in halting the sale, more power to them," said Sandy Genis, the president of the OCFPC. "I'm cautiously optimistic."
When David Padilla--the former board member who opposed the sale and was asking too many questions--spoke with his father about the Fair Board's 180-turn on the matter, the pair had a good laugh.
"They had three chances to come out publicly against the sale, and each time they declined," Padilla said, and pointed out that the fair board's attempts to realign its position on the sale comes only once the issue is a "foregone conclusion."
The man, the myth, the kingpin: David Ellis.
With all of the public and media scrutiny--including our comprehensive cover story
(yeah, that's a plug!)--pointing to any and every questionable political relationship or the various masked contracts or the thousands of dollars exchanging hands, it would seem explanations, apologies or confessions are in order. That doesn't seem to be happening anytime soon. Though, Ellis did acknowledge that the foundation didn't work out the way he had foreseen.
"I'll be the first to admit I was in the middle of all of that," Ellis explained, of the fair board's move to create a non-profit foundation to purchase the fairgrounds, "but it was an attempt to do the right thing for the community by putting the property and its operation in the control of a non-profit organization, which had extensive community representation." He said the aim was to recreate the situation in Los Angeles, where the Los Angeles County Fair Association, a non-profit organization, administers the L.A. County Fair.
The foundation crumbled following "all the issues, all the accusations, all the yelling and screaming," according to Ellis. Interestingly, repeated efforts to speak with Ellis or any member of the fair board during the reporting of our cover story, "Fair Games," were denied.
Though the fair board has its newfound stance on the sale, its dealings are still questionable. For example, despite a state-wide hiring freeze, the board is awaiting approval of a contract to bring on a public relations firm, Byron de Arakal Communications, which counts Delta Partners LLC among its clients. Delta Partners is owned by David Ellis.
The show goes on.