Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More Fairgrounds Intrigue

A NEW WRINKLE IN THE MIX!
Holy Cow! Just as the Costa Mesa City Council is preparing the final touches on its proposal to the State for the acquisition of the Orange County Fair and Events Center at its meeting tonight and, officials are preparing to wing off to Sacramento to hand-deliver the proposal to the Governor's office, a new wrinkle in this whole affair comes to light.

FAIR BOARD TO CONSIDER TWO ITEMS THURSDAY
The Fair Board, at its meeting on Thursday, the 22nd, will consider two items having to do with the sale of the Fairgrounds. The first is item 8A on their agenda which says: "Review and Approve Profit Sharing Proposal between the 32nd DAA and the State of California to be presented as an alternative to the Sale of the OC Fairgrounds." And, as if that was not interesting enough, item 9A - a closed session item - says the following: "Pursuant to the provisions of Government Code Section 11126(c)(7) the Board of Directors will meet in closed session for the purpose of giving instructions to its negotiator with respect to the potential purchase or lease of the Orange County Fairgrounds and the price and terms of payment for purchase or lease which may be presented to the State Department of General Services." Got that?

WHAT?
It seems that the Board will consider two completely different items on Thursday - one for a profit sharing scheme, to be discussed in open session and the second for some kind of a lease/purchase plan for the Fairgrounds that will be hashed out in closed session.

RETURNED BEAZLEY'S CALL
So, curious guy that I am, I called Steve Beazley, CEO of the Fairgrounds, for a little chat. He had left a message for me earlier, requesting that I call him - now I understood why.


BEAZLEY - "NOT COMPETING WITH THE CITY"

According to Beazley this morning, it is not the intent of the Board to present a proposition that competes with the City's proposal. He says that the Board just wants to be sure all it's options are covered. OK, but the way it looks and sounds following my conversation with Beazley the Board is doing exactly that - preparing a competing package for the Governor to consider. In fact, it may be competing with itself!

PROFIT SHARING SCHEME
One might assume (nasty word, that one) that the profit sharing proposal would somehow keep the current Fair Board in place and present to the State an opportunity for more "return on investment" from Fairgrounds operations than it's seen in the past. I suspect this plan will keep all the current state employees in place, including the Fair Board, but I don't know for sure.

LEASE/PURCHASE PLAN
The second one, though, is more interesting and provocative. I asked Beazley the question that may be bouncing around in some of your minds - is the lease/purchase scheme they're going to discuss a product of the Fair Board or the foundation created by some Fair Board members last year? He told me flat-out that the foundation has no part in any of these discussions and that he thinks it is now inactive. I recall that earlier all the foundations members but two had bailed out.

A "PRIUS" SOLUTION?
Beazley told me that the Fair Board's proposals - if any actually come out of their meeting - might present opportunities for something he called a "hybrid" solution to the problem of the Sale of the Fairgrounds. He felt that there might be the possibility of some kind of an amalgamation of the City's proposal and those ideas presented by the Fair Board. I'm trying to wrap my arms around just what those "synergies", as Beazley called them, might be.

MUDDYING THE WATERS
So, the city staffers have been busting their collective fannies for a month to cobble together what they hope will be an acceptable proposal for the Governor to consider and will hand-deliver it to him tomorrow to meet his deadline, assuming the meeting tonight goes as anticipated. In the meantime, the Fair Board is going to throw an unsolicited, competing proposal(s) into the mix that might further muddy the waters for the folks in Sacramento that will be making the decision.

THE STATE KNOWS THEIR PITCH IS COMING
I asked Beazley if the State knew the Fair Board was working on these proposals - he said "Yes". So, does that mean it's going to withhold a decision until it sees what the Fair Board has in mind? What happened to the "exclusive right to negotiate" the City thought it had with the State?

LAST DITCH ATTEMPT TO SAVE JOBS?
I must say that this certainly does appear to be a last-minute attempt by the Fair Board to save their jobs - positions with very significant perks in the past - and the jobs of the 85 or so state employees who help run the Fairgrounds. I only hope this doesn't screw up the works for the city and diminish the chances of its proposal to get a fair hearing. (Yeah, I couldn't resist that play on words - sorry)

EXPECT "INTERESTED PARTIES" TO ATTEND AND SPEAK
I imagine many of "the usual suspects" will present themselves at the Fair Board meeting at 10:00 a.m. Thursday to voice their opinions on these issues. Should be yet another interesting meeting at the Fairgrounds.

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