The fate of the Orange County Fairgrounds remains locked up in legal proceedings, which leaves plenty of time to ponder that $100 million buying price. Leading off that discussion, it would be best to know the actual value of the land--a figure Dr. Steven Beazley and the OC Fair and Event Centershould have considering it has contracted and paid not one, but two separate firms to determine.
Despite repeated requests, Beazley and board members of the OCFEC have constantly tiptoed around a direct answer of whether or not an appraisal was ever conducted. Then documents started appearing that made it clear that money was spent and work had been done. The most recent documents discovered by the Weekly indicate that something resembling a second appraisal was requested in April 2010, from Herron Companies, which cost $5,625. On the invoice dated April 30, 2010, Beazley scribbled the note, "Ok to pay."
In total, OCFEC has spent $42,481.38 to determine the value of the land (or pieces of the land), and yet, no figure(s) has made its way out of the fair board's private quarters.
When the Weekly tried to contact Beazley or anyone with the OCFEC for comment, it received only emailed responses from the communications director, Robin Wachner.
Wachner denied that the contract with Herron was an appraisal: "The work consisted of estimating, not appraising, possible parcel leases of the fairgrounds' corners for activity that would bring a financial return to the [32nd District Agricultural Association]."
Officials from Herron Companies refused to comment for this story.
The Weekly previously reported that the OCFEC had contracted and paid a firm $36,856.38 for "appraisal services" in May 2009. When the Weekly questioned OCFEC about this contract, which was with Richard A. Fuller Consulting, Wachner responded by email, stating, "Work on both the appraisal and the title report was terminated prior to completion and no documents were delivered to the Association."
When asked about the $36,000-plus already invoiced, Wachner did not respond.
Lisa Sabo and other Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society members confronted Beazley about the first appraisal at the February board meeting during the public comments. Sabo played a recording of Beazley's response to StateAssemblyman Jose Solorio at a public hearing on Nov. 9, 2009, in which he stammered through a non-answer to a direct question. An example:
Solorio: I am curious and interested if the Fair itself has conducted an appraisal in the past and what that appraisal figure was?
Beazley: There was some investigation on what would a, the hard part is when we did our investigation there were no comparable sales of fairgrounds. So one of the challenges of ever coming up with any kind of appraisal is you have to go to other recreational sites like golf courses, parks, those types of things. So any appraisal would not be a one for one, what is the average acreage cost a fairgrounds would be sold for. It would be more recreational based, which would indeed make it less valid and if you were to have the sale of the Fairgrounds. We looked all over the country and couldn't find a sale of a fairgrounds that would be, and once you get geographically out of an area, you get challenged as well. So finding a comparable, I would say is almost impossible.
It clearly wasn't a "no," but it also wasn't a "yes."
The actual translation might be more like: "I don't want to give a direct answer, but I'm going to stumble through a bunch of information so that it seems I'm giving a comprehensive response, when really I'm just trying to throw you off course, and did I mention that I confuse myself when I give longer than six-word answers."
In truth, it's the type of answer that enables Beazley and the OCFEC and Wachner to continue to say that they have not denied that an appraisal exists.
While the Preservation Society doesn't want the land to be sold, it's been among the most vocal in requesting the whereabouts of the figure.
"It's not about the appraisal number," said Sabo. "It's about the honesty and transparency of the fair board."