Saturday, January 16, 2010

Fairgrounds Sale Back At Full Boil

IT'S BAAACK...
I'd planned to let the Fairgrounds auction issue simmer in the background over the weekend, but events have occurred that cause me to, once again, address the subject with you.


PREVIOUS CONVERSATION WITH
STEVE CRAIG
The evening of th
e 14th I wrote about my long conversation with Steve Craig, President of Craig Realty Group - the successful bidder for the Fairgrounds at $56.5 million. I won't attempt to rehash that conversation - you can go back and read what I wrote by scrolling down.

ANOTHER CHAT FRIDAY

Friday afternoon Craig called me again for another little chat. He told me that he thought my representation of our conversation was accurate and balanced. T
hat was good to hear, since that's my goal with everything I write here.

RIGGY CONTACTED HIM ABOUT "COLLUSION"

He went on to tell me of a contact he'd had from "
A Daily Pilot reporter", who turned out to be Jim Righeimer, who apparently called him with questions about possible collusion in the bidding process. He thought that was strange, as do I. However, the story gets stranger.

RIGGY'S COLUMN IS ACCUSATORY

Riggy, in his Daily Pilot column this morning entitled "Fair deal gets even stranger" comes right out and implies that someone at the Department of General Services leaked some bid information to other bidders, which affected the outcome of the auction!

CRAIG DENIES ANY WRONGDOING
Craig and I had a long conversation about this issue and he affirmed for me that neither he nor his partner in this venture, sports agent Dwight Manley, had any contacts with any of the other bidders prior to the opening of the bids. He vehemently denied any collusion in the sale process.

THIS HAS REEKED SINCE DAY ONE

Almost since the beginning of this whole "Fair Sale" imbroglio there has been the wiff of impropriety, at lea
st. The creation of the Fair Board Foundation; the hiring of former State Senator Dick Ackerman to apparently lobby Sacramento to sell the Fairgrounds; the hasty abandonment of the Foundation by several members when the light of day was shined upon them; the decision of the State Attorney General to not represent the Fair Board in legal action that might occur with the Fair Sale and on and on, all just didn't pass the smell test. Many folks who have expressed themselves about the Fair Sale on this blog, in the Daily Pilot, in the Register and elsewhere could smell the pungent odor of malfeasance from a long way off. Now comes Riggy's accusations...

RIGGY SHOULD PUT UP...
In my opinion, if Riggy has evidence or testimony by one or more of the bidders that confidential information was leaked prior to the auction he is obligated to turn that information
over to the State Attorney General's office for investigation. If this auction was rigged in any way, shape or form those involved should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And, the whole auction should be declared void and the sale canceled.

OR SHUT UP!
If Riggy doesn't have such information/evidence then he should shut-the-heck up. His innuendo potentially exposes him and the Daily Pilot to
serious legal issues. This behavior certainly makes one curious about Riggy's role in this whole issue, doesn't it?

CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

If this sale goes through and Craig and his group take title to the Fairgrounds next November, there are going to be several times when they will present issues to the Costa Mesa Planning Commission for consideration. This, as I see it, is going to be a big problem from a conflict-of-interest standpoint. Although Craig has told me a couple times that he doesn't know Steve Mensinger and Jim Righeimer (until this situation yesterday), his company had business dealings with the ba
nkrupt SunCal Companies - where both men work. That's going to have to be sorted out well in advance of ANY contact by Craig with the Planning Commission.

WHO IS PROVIDING DIRECTION, AND WHY?
As the Fairgrounds Sale issue moves along it
's course it seems to have some curious, and maybe illegal, influences providing it with direction. Somebody needs to investigate...

STOP THE SALE, NOW!

In the meantime, we ALL need to contact the governor and our legislators and urge them to quash this sale. As each day passes it seems to have new, messy elements coming to light. It needs to be stopped right now.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

New Bloggers Added

In the busy world of local politics we sometimes forget to look for fun things going on around us.

NEW ADDITIONS TO THE BLOG ROLL
For those who actually pay attention to my blog roll over there on the right side of the page it will come as no surprise to see a couple new links added. For those who are so fascinated by the content on my pages that you NEVER look over there, here's a little introduction to them, in no particular order...

CHUCK CASSITY STRIKES - UNEDITED!

My fellow geezer, curmudgeon and whatever other name you wish to apply to us, Chuck Cassity, has launched his new blog, "Chuckmeister Unleashed" this month. If you slide over to the link and click it you will find his first entry. Chuck has become an irregular regular contributor to the Forum page of the Daily Pilot and I suspect Chuck's blog will be the source of much entertainment in the months to come. I'm looking forward to his flights of fancy. I hope you will, too.

THE REAL TONY D.

My friend and former Da
ily Pilot Director of News and Online, Tony Dodero, writes a column, Go Ask Your Dad, in a publication called OC Family. A click on that title will take you to his January column. As a supplement to his column Tony recently launched a new blog. It's also called, cleverly, "Go Ask Your Dad". Slide over to the right and click on the link. For those of you who might have had the image of Tony when he was at the Pilot as a gruff editor-type who always said "NO!" to your questions, here's a chance to meet the real guy - a really good guy. Enjoy him.


COME ON BACK, BYRON!
I hope you'll remember these links are over there for your reading pleasure and visit them often. Now, if I could only get my old pal, Byron de Arakal, to drag himself out of his hollow log and come out of hibernation and begin writing on his Itchingpost blog again all would be well with my world!

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Auction Post Mortem With Steve Craig

Well, this has been a long, interesting day, to say the very least.

THE BEST LAID PLANS...

All my great plans to post info on this blog simultaneously with the auction as it progressed got blown to smithereens because of my technological dyslexia! I had the darn webcast all set to go - even heard some extraneous jabber before 10 as they got set up - then my browser dozed off and before I could slap it awake again
the first part, the opening of the bids, had been completed. Drat!

VIEW THE AUCTION - DON'T BLINK
I did, however, see the actual auction. I may be one of the few who did because if you blinked you'd have missed it. If you want to see both minutes of it you can go to the DGS archives, HERE,
to view it.

OPENING BIDS
Tom Johnson over
at the Daily Voice did a terrific job of timely reporting from the site. You can read his coverage HERE. As he first reported, the opening bids were as follows:

Bid No. 1: Costa Mesa and County of Orange: $6.5 million

Bid No. 2: Advanced Real Estate Services: $17 million

Bid No. 3: Tel-Phil Enterprises : $1,000

Bid No. 4: Facilities Management West: $55 million

Bid No. 5: Anaheim Sports Holding : $20 million

Bid No. 6: Craig Realty Group ($42.5 million)

Bid No. 7: Forde and Mollrich: $2 million

That bid by Jeff Teller of Tel-Phil Enterprises was obviously a protest bid, but it made me chuckle, nonetheless.

THE AUCTION
Following a short break the actual auction began. Using the high bid of $55 million as the starting point, the moderator invited bids in $500,000 increments. Craig Realty Group bid $55.5 million. Then Advanced Real Estate Services bumped it to $56 million. Finally, in what would be the winning bid, Craig kicked it to $56.5 million, even though the moderator desperately looked around the room for yet another bid.

CRAIG IS THE WINNER
So, the deed is done and Craig Realty Group - an organization located in Newport Beach and specializes in developing outlet malls - got the buy of the century. My sources tell me that it wouldn't be unusual to spend $2.5 million per acre for similar property - Craig will get the Fairgrounds for around $377,000 per acre. No wonder he bid on it! If you're interested in learning about Craig Realty Group, here's their web site: www.craigrealtygroup.com.

CALLING "THE MAN"
Eager to hear from Craig Realty Group President Steve Craig himself about his plans for the Fairgrounds, I placed a call to his office shortly after the auction was finished. He wasn't there, so I left a message, never really expecting to have him return my call. Later, on a second try, I was shunted off to his marketing person in San Diego, who couldn't or wouldn't tell me a thing about their plans. I figured that was the end of it. Nope!

HE ACTUALLY CALLED BACK!
Late this afternoon Steve Craig called me back. My message was on top of his stack of 200 other messages, so I lucked out. I simply wanted to confirm a quote he apparently gave Tony Barboza of the Los Angeles Times following the auction: “We see this as an interesting opportunity to enhance something that’s here,” said Steven Craig, president and chief executive of Craig Realty, a commercial real estate firm in Newport Beach. “I’m happy to keep the fair here. We like it that way. But we’d like to find a way to make it financially viable. Maybe a private enterprise approach will work.”

FIVE MINUTES TURNS INTO FORTY!
He acknowledged that sounded about right and I was satisfied, but our conversation continued - for 40 minutes!

SAN CLEMENTE OUTLET MALL IN THE WORKS
We spoke on a range of issues, mostly about the Fairgrounds and his other developments. For example, some already know that he has closed escrow on the former SunCal property in San Clemente and plans to build an outlet mall down there on what is known as the Marblehead location. As we discussed that project I asked him if he knew either Planning Commission Chairman Jim Righeimer or Planning Commissioner Steve Mensinger, both of whom headed up divisions of SunCal Companies. He said he didn't...

HIS BID THE WORST CASE SCENARIO FOR MANY
Steve Craig struck me as a pretty straightforward guy, proud of his developments and his professed concern for the communities in which they are located. I think many of us, when thinking about outlet malls, get a kind of bad taste in our mouths - visions of tacky venues, packed with people and overrun with traffic pop into my head. I told him that his successful bidding for The Fairgrounds is the worst possible scenario for many folks concerned about the future of The Fairgrounds and our community.

NO OUTLET MALL AT THE FAIRGROUNDS!
At that point we had a long discussion about his plans for the site. He told me that he does not want to put an outlet mall at the Fairgrounds location, period! He appreciates what it is, the historical significance to our communities it represents and the cultural hole it would leave if the Fair were to disappear from that site. He told me he wants to retain the uses that are there, but to make visiting the Fairgrounds an "enhanced" experience. He says he wants to make it better.

HE'S A HORSE GUY, TOO
Craig understands about the various constituencies that have banded together to fight the sale of the Fairgrounds. He understands the angst of the horse folks. He's a horse guy, too. He joked that, when he saw the horses at the demonstration this morning, he thought he should have ridden one to the auction himself.

NO PLANS TO EVICT THE MARKETPLACE
He understands about the apprehension the vendors at The Marketplace have about the future of their livelihoods, but doesn't have any plans to evict that venue from the Fairgrounds.

LOVES BARRETT-JACKSON
He's excited about the addition of the Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction to the Fairgrounds events schedule and hopes to work with them to perpetuate it beyond next year. Seems he's a "car guy", too.


NOT WORRIED ABOUT GENERAL PLAN AMENDMENT
Craig also understands the potential obstacle in front of him in the form of Costa Mesa's plans to pass a General Plan amendment to tighten up the potential uses of the Fairgrounds site, and the ballot measure being prepared for the June ballot to further lock those uses in. He professed to me that his plans for the site will all meet the use restrictions.

HIS PLANS SOUND GOOD... SO FAR
I came away from my conversation with Steve Craig comfortable with his plans, tentative as they are at this early date. He knows the rug might be pulled out from under him by the State Department of General Services, who may decide his bid is inadequate. Final acceptance of his bid might take as long as three months.

HE NEEDS TO PRESS THE FLESH - SOON
In the meantime, I hope he soon takes the opportunity to meet with community leaders and other members who have fought so hard to have the sale quashed. If he's serious with his plans as described to me, he needs to make some friends pretty soon.

DON'T LET UP - STOP THE SALE!
My friends at The City of Costa Mesa still have the goal to kill the sale and encouraged me - and all of you - to keep up the pressure on the governor to cancel it and, simultaneously, continue to push for the passage of Jose Solorio's AB1590. This fight isn't over yet...




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Fairgrounds Auction Webcast

THE TROOPS HAVE RALLIED
OK, folks, here we go. This is a photo fro
m the Fairgrounds early this morning... passions continue to run high. Love the positioning of the "Do Not Pass" sign! Folks were lining up for seats before 9 a.m.

HERE'S THE LINK TO THE WEBCAST

Here's the link again for the Department of General Services webcast for the auction of the Orange County Fair and Events Center today at 10 a.m. - http://www.dgs.ca.gov/webcast.

NOT ENOUGH SPACE FOR OBSERVERS
As you probably know, the venue is tiny and almost certainly will not accommodate the bidders (first priority) and the authorized media (second priority), much less spectators. Even though another room will be available at The Fairgrounds with the webcast being shown, that also will probably prove to be inadequate. The Costa Mesa City Council Chambers, right across Fair Drive, will be open at at 9:45 to provide a webcast viewing venue, too.


RUNNING COMMENTARY, MAYBE...

Today we're going to try something a little different. If all goes well I'm going to try to provide you with a running commentary as the auction proceeds. No guarantees, but we'll give it our best shot. So, refresh your browser often as you check back here for my view on this situation.

ANONYMOUS BIDDERS?

One of the interesting elements of the published format for this auction is that bidders, media and observers will not know the identity of the individual bidders. Each eligible bidder will be assigned a number as they enter the room today. The remainder of the transaction will be conducted using those numbers.


AND NOW, LIVE (VIA WEBCAST) FROM THE ORANGE COUNTY FAIR AND EVENTS CENTER...

10:05
and counting... still only the Great Seal and some music available on the webcast feed. There was a picture of chairs and an open mic a couple minutes ago... made for some interesting overheard conversations..

OK, my browser let me down, but my stringers are omnipresent. Here's the scoop on the bids:

Orange County/Costa Mesa bid $6.5 million
Aerie (Don Julien) bid $17 million
TelPhil (the Marketplace) bid $1,000. too funny!
Facilities Management West bid $55 million
Anaheim Sports Holdings bid $20 million (may be the Samueli family?)
Craig Realty Group bid $42.5 million
Ford & Mollrich bid $2 million (may be the Fair Board foundation)

The auction will begin shortly and, if my browser lets me view it, I'll report back.

10:24... High bid - $56.5 million by Craig Realty Group. Bidding Closed.

Here's the link to the Craig Realty Group. It looks to me like they plan to put an outlet mall right across the street from our City Hall! Left a message for their President, Steve Craig... don't really expect to hear from him.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Latest Info On The Bid Opening/Auction

HERE'S THE LATEST SCOOP...
OK, here's the latest on the Fairgrounds bid opening/auction, scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, January 14th at the Fairgrounds...




"ONLY ELIGIBLE BIDDERS"... BUT
The RF
P clearly states that "only eligible bidders will be permitted at the bid opening...". However, today the City of Costa Mesa sent out a press release announcing that the meeting will be open to the public.

STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH
To clear up the potential confusion I contacted several people at the Department of General Services in Sacramento and was eventually told that:

1 - The meeting WILL be open to the public, but the venue is VERY limited.

2 - Eligibl
e bidders will have first priority, with authorized members of the media second and members of the public permitted if there is any space available. Because of the small size of the room and the anticipated media frenzy, I doubt if there will be any room for members of the public.

3 - The meeting will be web cast at this link: http://www.dgs.ca.gov/webcast. This site will be live 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the meeting.


4 - The web cast will be archived immediately following the meeting and should be viewable within an hour at this link: http://www.dgs.ca.gov/Webcasts.htm.

5 - There will be an
adjacent room available for overflow attendees with the web cast being broadcast in it.

6 - There will be speakers placed outside the meeting room for those interested in hearing the proceedings.

7 - At 9:45 a.m. The City of Costa Mesa is opening the City Council Chambers across the street to the public and will play the web cast on the large screens in that room.

8 - The city will have a camera crew at the meeting and will prepare a feature for Costa Mesa TV to be played in the normal rotation. When that schedule is available I'll publish it.

9 - Officials at
Orange Coast College offered a couple of their larger venues for this meeting but the State officials respectfully declined, indicating it was too late in the game to make a venue change. I certainly understand that rationale. If I was conducting this meeting I wouldn't want to have a bunch of activists and sign carriers sitting in on - and potentially disrupting - what amounts to a purely business meeting.

STATE TRYING TO PROVIDE TRANSPARENCY

It seems to me that The State is trying to provide transparency in this highly-charged situation. You can sit at home, sipping tea and munching donuts and still watch the proceedings as they occur. Since outsiders have no role to play in the process in this meeting, I'm comfortable with these arrangements.

STILL UNANSWERED QUESTIONS...

So, there you have it - so far. The curiosity about the remaining 5 bidders is growing and I suspect that there will be enough media coverage that you'll get all the information you need - and then some.

MORE WHEN IT BREAKS
More news as it breaks. In the meantime, I guarantee you that Thursday will be a very interesting day here in the land of Newport-Mesa.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Fairgrounds Bidding Closed - 7 Made Deadline

SEVEN BIDS MAKE THE DEADLINE TODAY
The deadline for bids on the Orange County Fair and Events Center came and went today at 5 p.m. According to news reports in the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register, 7 bids were received by the deadline. As of my press time no report was available on the Daily Pilot...

ONLY TWO ARE KNOWN FOR SURE

It is known that the Costa Mesa, in a joint powers authority with the County of Orange, was one of the bidders. The other known bidder is Advanced Real Estate
Services of Lake Forest. The identities of the remaining 5 bidders is unknown at this time.

WEBCAST AVAILABLE FOR VIEWING OF AUCTION

The bids will be opened and the auction for the 150 acre site will begin at 10 a.m. on
Thursday, January 14th, at the Fairgrounds. Those who plan to attend are encouraged to arrive early because seating is limited. The State Department of General Services will do a web cast of the auction, which can be viewed at www.dgs.ca.gov/webcast.

50,000 SIGNATURES TO BE DELIVERED TUESDAY
According to news reports, an organization called the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society has gathered 50,000 signatures from residents opposing the sale and will deliver them to the State capitol on Tuesday.


WRITE, CALL, FAX - THERE'S STILL TIME

There is still time to stop this disaster. Katrina Foley is in Sacramento lobbying legislators to pass Jose Solorio's AB1590. Your telephone calls to Governor Schwarzenegger and legislators will be very helpful as efforts continue to "Derail The Sale".

Thursday morning is going to be very interesting...

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Football and Fairgrounds

Geez, I go out of town for a couple days and the wheels come off back here!

'TIDE WHIPS LONGHORNS

First, Alabama whipped the Longhorns despite my prediction. I could whine about Colt McCoy getting hurt in the second series and all that s
tuff. The fact is, Alabama won and looked pretty darn good doing it, too. I don't think they, nor the Longhorns, were the best teams I saw during the bowl season, but they were good. Man, would I love to see Alabama take on Boise State tomorrow!

CARROLL FLIES TO SEAHAWKS
Then, Pete Carroll abandons USC for the NFL Seattle Seahawks! First the Washington Huskies snag Steve Sarkasian to run it's program this year, now Carroll will be a skipping-rock-throw-away, coaching the lowly Seahawks. Let's hope the third time's the charm for Pete. So, the Trojans and the Irish will meet next year with new coaches... should be fun.

FOLEY BACK IN SACRAMENTO
Katrina Foley is back in Sacramento agai
n, lobbying to get Jose Solorio's AB1590 passed. I fear that, even though thousands of use Orange Countians want the fairgrounds to remain as it is, the governor has shown us how he feels. Even if Solorio's bill is passed by the Assembly and Senate, I wouldn't be surprised if Arnold vetoes it! It's looking more and more like we've got a sale on our hands.


FAIRGROUNDS BIDS DUE NOW
Today, just about the time I hit the "publish" button on this entry, all the bids wil
l have been submitted. Unless the furlough program causes another delay, the auction will move forward on Thursday, January 14th at 10 a.m. at the Orange County Fair and Events Center. At this point we know we have at least two bids - the one submitted by the City/County joint powers authority and the one by the local developer.

NO ACCEPTABLE BIDS?

It is possible that the members of the General Services Department will find no bid acceptable and cancel the auction. With all the encumbrances that are attached to that property in the form of a General Plan amendment - which will move on down the pipeline at tonight's Planning Commission meeting - and the probability of that amendment being locked into place by a ballot measure in June - it will be
very interesting to see how much any developer will be willing to bid on that property.

SEE YOU THURSDAY...

I suspect there will be a pretty good crowd at the Fairgrounds on Thursday. I may toddle on over there myself, just to see the festivities. I'm itching to know just how much the City/County group is committed to bid for the property - and how they propose to pay for it. Stay tuned...

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