Frustrating Fair Fandango Full
It's been a long day... The hearing co-hosted by Assemblymen Jose Solorio and Van Tran in the Costa Mesa City Council Chambers this morning started late and ran long, but was worth the effort. Both Solorio and Tran voted to sell the Fairgrounds on Assembly Bill 22.
The chambers were packed causing late arrivals to hover outside the door and watch the proceedings on a television monitor. As speakers would have their say and decide to depart the Costa Mesa police officer who was monitoring the auditorium would permit individuals to enter and find that vacant seat.
HERE'S THE COVERAGE
To say the crowd was passionate would be the mother of all understatements. I'm not sure Solorio and Tran knew what they were getting into when they scheduled this meeting. I'll give you my impressions in a minute, but do want to refer you to the Daily Pilot coverage, HERE, the Los Angeles Times coverage HERE, the Orange County Register coverage HERE and, in my opinion, the best coverage today - that provided by Bill Lobdell of the Daily Voice, HERE and HERE.
There were at least three television news vans outside in the parking lot and as many as eight camera crews inside the chambers for awhile. For those of us sitting near the rear of the room it got to be a contortionists challenge to see all the speakers.
The meeting was televised live on Costa Mesa TV, Channel 24 and on streaming video. It can be viewed on streaming video any time and on television. Here's their replay schedule:NOTE: The schedule above is changed. The replay time for 11/10/09 and the length of playback have been adjusted.
SOLORIO AND TRAN HOG SPOTLIGHT
Solorio and Tran chose to be the only speakers on the dais and relegated others to the tables in front of them. That's fine for them, but the audience had some trouble hearing and understanding some of the others.
STATE: THE BALL IS ROLLING
They kicked it off with a presentation by Bob McKinnon, Supervising Real Estate Officer, State Department of General Services and his entourage from Sacramento. I can say without a glimmer of equivocation that McKinnon's presentation was not well-received by the attendees. He told us, for example, that they had not done an appraisal of the property and had established no minimum bid. The crowd, which was pretty well-behaved throughout the meeting, got very restless at that point. Later, as he gave us the timetable for this sale, he told us that the Director of the General Services Department has the final say on whether the "best" offer is good enough - not even the Governor can stop the sale.
Next up was Orange County Treasurer Chriss Street, who gave us an overview of possible financing options, none of which seemed like a good choice considering the current economic times. It was clear from his presentation that for a new owner to purchase the Fairgrounds and be required to keep it as-is just doesn't pencil-out.
FOLEY PITCHES THE COSTA MESA STORY
Next came Costa Mesa Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who presented the City's resolve to keep the Fairgrounds as such. There was no ambiguity in her comments - which was not lost on Solorio and Tran. She, and later with Wendy Leece, affirmed the City's plans.
BRANDT, DODGE AND BEAZLEY
Next came a panel comprised of Kimberly Brandt, Costa Mesa's Acting Director of Development Services, Kristina Dodge, Chairman of the Board of the Fair and Events Center and Steve Beazley, CEO of the Fair and Events Center. Brandt reiterated the City's intention to develop a Specific Plan for the site and also to place the issue of the land use on the June, 2010 ballot. Dodge presented a very weak argument, emphasizing the Fair Board's desire for local control and Beazley griped about the potential damage to the 85 full time State employees - including himself - should the Fair be sold to a private entity.
RIGGY PLUGS "SAVE THE FAIR"
Next came the threesome of Costa Mesa Planning Commission Chairman Jim Righeimer, Jessie Hunt representing the 32 Fair employees represented by the SEIU and Chuck Fry representing the Orange County Fairgrounds Equestrian Center. Righeimer plugged his organization, Save the Fair, Hunt gave a feeble plea for those 32 people she controls and Fry stressed the value of the Equestrian Center, mentioned the 30,000 signatures they've gathered to oppose the sale.
RESIDENTS SPEAK OUT
More than 40 people, many residents of Costa Mesa, but many others from other Orange County cities, then used 2 minutes (and sometimes more) to speak passionately about the sale. There were no speakers who favored the sale - no surprise there. An interesting sidebar - all the Fair Board members left the chambers before the members of the public began to speak. That snub was not lost on many speakers, who pointed it out to Solorio and Tran.
There seemed to be a large number of folks speaking for and about the Equestrian Center. That didn't really surprise me because that section of the Fairgrounds has been under fire from the Fair Board in recent years. Their area was reduced from 15 acres to 7.5 and recently the Board expressed an interest in paving over the entire Equestrian Center.
AYER: ACKERMAN A HIRED GUN
Gus Ayer, who operates the OC Progressive blog, HERE, spoke with passion and brought up the issue of former legislator Dick Ackerman having been hired - illegally, according to Ayer - by the Fair Board to represent their interests in having the Fairgrounds sold. That drew many exclamations from the crowd and Tran demanded a clarification from Dodge on the subject. She confirmed that Ackerman had been hired. Ayer has used his blog to blanket the issue of the Fairgrounds sale with questions and allegations.
LOCALS WIN CHEERS
Former mayor Sandra Genis and former councilman Jay Humphries spoke against the sale, as did several other Costa Mesa activists. Robin Leffler, for example, told the Solorio and Tran, "It's not broke, don't fix it. The State's broke, not our Fairgrounds." Then Westside activist Kathleen Eric told them, "I liken the sale of our Fairgrounds to suicide - a permanent solution to a temporary problem."
RIDGE SLAMS BOARD
Equestrian fan Greg Ridge, who has been battling the Fair Board for a long time, said, "We're requiring elected officials to step in and take care of this appointed board. And basically I think they all need to be kicked off."
SOLORIO: "NO LOCAL OPPOSITION"
As things wound down Solorio, trying to defend his vote to sell the Fairgrounds, said there was no local opposition. I glanced over at Costa Mesa city officials as members of the crowd yelled out, "We didn't know what was going on!" and could see many official's faces turning red in anger.
TRAN: "WE'LL MAKE IT HAPPEN"
At the end of the meeting Tran said, "I will make this commitment and that is to carry legislation to insure, and I'm not sure what the language of the legislation will be, we'll work the details out, but to insure that this piece of property will stay a Fairgrounds, Equestrian Center and OC Market, how's that. We'll make that happen." OK, Assemblyman Tran, we'll hold you to that... Let's hope he gets it right because he continually misidentified the Assembly Bill as AB 32 - it is actually AB 22.
IT STILL STINKS
Nothing today changed my opinion that something really reeks about this whole issue. Apparently hired gun Dick Ackerman, based on his marching orders from the Fair Board, facilitated the creation of legislation that prompted the sale of the Fairgrounds. And, when combined with the fact that members of the Fair Board may have violated state law when they met and formed a non-profit foundation the express purpose of which was to buy the Fairgrounds, this really does not pass the smell test.
JUGGERNAUT ON THE MOVE
So, here we stand. The State is moving forward like an out-of-control juggernaut with the process of selling the Fairgrounds and the City of Costa Mesa is moving forward with the creation of a Specific Plan and ballot measure that will make the Fairgrounds a very, very unattractive acquisition. Because of the tight time schedule, I think there is no chance that Van Tran will fulfill his promise to us, and he will likely blame it on that fact.
FLOOD THE GOVERNOR
My suggestion is that every single one of us who oppose the sale of the Fairgrounds immediately write to Governor Schwarzenegger requesting him to use his executive authority to reverse the decision to sell the property.