Sunday, December 06, 2009

More Fairgrounds Intrigue

By the time most of you read this Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Wendy Leece, Councilwoman Katrina Foley and City Manager Allan Roeder will have already arrived in Sacramento to discuss the sale of the Orange County Fair and Even
ts Center with officials from the State Department of General Services with hopes of convincing them that, since the city will be exercising it's authority over the property once it is no longer owned by the state to significantly reduce it's potential uses, the State should cancel the sale.

The last time I personally spoke with a representative of General Services a week ago I was told that only the governor's office can stop the sale now. Of course, if Assemblyman Jos
e Solorio's bill, AB 1590, is passed it includes an urgency element that would quash the sale immediately.

And, this weekend brought some interesting news from the legal fron
t. It seems that the Fair Board has been advised by the State Attorney General's office that, because of the "seemingly intertwined and potentially conflicting interests the District, the District Board members and the non-profit", it will no longer provide legal services to the Board on issues relating to the sale until "all issues relating to the proposed sale of the District fairgrounds have been resolved."


While at first glance it would seem that the Attorney General's office, headed up by former and possible
future governor Jerry Brown, has cast the Fair Board adrift without a paddle, that's far from the truth. In the letter sent to philanthropist Kristina Dodge, Chair of the 32nd District Agricultural Association (Fair Board) on December 1, 2009, the Board was authorized to use alternative legal counsel of its own choosing. The author of the letter, Chief Assistant Attorney General J. Matthew Rodriquez, went on to say, "By providing this authorization, we do not endorse the Districts' choice of counsel or agree to monitor that counsel's bills." Sounds like a blank check to me...


In her column in The Current last Friday, former sauce-stirrer and current Orange County Register columnist Barbara Venezia called for the ouster of the Fair Board. You can read her column HERE. This sounds like a great idea to me. Through their attempted manipulation of this issue, inclu
ding the apparent illegal hiring of former Senator Dick Ackerman to lobby on their behalf for the sale of the Fairgrounds, the current Fair Board has proven itself unworthy of the public trust necessary to perform its duties. According to the Daily Pilot, Ackerman was paid more than $19,000 for his efforts on behalf of the Fair Board.


I also find myself suspicious of the activities of Costa Mesa Planning Commission Chairman, Jim Righeimer, in this issue. When the story broke about the Fair Board forming a non-profit organization (comprised mainly of current Fair Board members), he launched his "Save The Fair" effort, theoretically to do just that - save the Fair. However, as time passes, it seems clear that his effort was simply a smoke screen to obscure what some of his pals on the Fair Board were trying
to do - buy the Fairgrounds on the cheap for potential future financial gain for themselves.


There have been few issues that have so energized our community than this bogus proposal to sell the Fairgrounds. There are still way more questions than answers. And, this
issue has brought together some very interesting diverse groups, too. The most vocal and persistent are those with very real vested interests - the equestrian crowd and vendors from the Orange County Marketplace. However, there has been a huge groundswell of outrage from residents who love the Fair and feel the sale of that 150 acres will mark the death knell to one of the last bastions of our agricultural heritage.

I hope the Costa Mesa entourage is successful on their trip north. There's a special closed session City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, December 8th to address the sale. Perhaps there will be a "report out" of that session that will give us some answers.

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Blogger Unknown said...

The "blank check" looks like it's a response to some specific language in the law that governs how state agencies like the 32nd Ag District are required to obtain legal support.

Normally they have to use the AG's office and reimburse the AG's office for the time. A second option is to use outside counsel under specific circumstances with the AG's office monitoring the expenses and exercising administrative control.

The AG is saying that they are washing their hands completely of the OC Fair Board and making clear that they aren't exercising control of the outside counsel either.

As they check in with their own individual legal representatives, I expect to see the Fair Board members start resigning en masse, while protesting that they didn't do anything wrong but wanting to clear the air for the "good of the Fair".

12/07/2009 06:27:00 AM  
Blogger G. Ridge Studio said...

Great summarization Geoff! The past five days have been pretty eventful. Gus Ayers at the OC progressive sheds some light on the "blank check"scenario. Turns out nothing has changed . The AG will no longer be the Boards counsel. They would bill the Board for services and now they will no longer do that.The Board would have used monies from their fund. They can still do that, they just have to use outside legl counsel.. The violations occured by the Fair boards themselves. In that regard they should find their own counsel and the Fair Borad can't pay for individual legal representation. It's Ca legal code 11040. Didn't make sense to me, so I cheated off the smart kid in class.Hope he got it right.

12/07/2009 07:23:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

OC Progressive, I was remiss in not mentioning the diligent work you've been doing on this issue. Hopefully, my readers will follow your link back to your blog for more good scoop. Thanks for your take on this subject here.

Late last night I dropped a little email note to Chief Assistant Attorney General Rodriquez asking him about his blank check. I'm not holding my breath that he'll respond, but if he does I'll report.

12/07/2009 07:57:00 AM  
Blogger Jim Righeimer said...

Geoff, to be clear I started SAVE THE FAIR to lock in the zoning of the fairgrounds by a vote of the people. City Council's can change over time, but a vote of the people can only be changed by another vote of the people. After our prodding, the council agreed to put together a ballot initiative for June. If that had not been done, there would be $150-$200million dollar offers for the property. With the financial shape the state is in there would be no stopping the sale if there were offers of that magnitude. I guess you need to think everyone has nefarious motives, but I assure you my only intent is to Save the Fair we all know and love. So far, I think we've done a pretty darn good job .

12/07/2009 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous CMTaxpayer said...

Let the Defamation of Character lawsuits begin!

12/07/2009 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

If you say so, Jim. You do understand why people are suspicious, don't you? You're proximity to the movers and shakers that conjured up the Fair Foundation, etc. This point becomes moot if the sale is stopped.

12/07/2009 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger la femme wonkita said...

I was actually disappointed in the "Save the Fair"/Righeimer effort, which is why I became involved with the Derailers.

All I saw were calls for an initiative in a column that would have been written anyway and a facebook page. Why didn't STF/Righeimer roll up their sleeves and write an initiative, submit it to the city and then pound the pavement to collect signatures?

It's a lot of work, but it can be done. I know, we've done it in the past. Derail the Sale (formally the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society) has been working hard and has petitions and postcards signed by tens of thousands. We're doers, not just self-promoters.

And incidentally, "locking in the zoning" is next to useless. Under the existing zoning, there could be a boatload of different uses besides a fairgrounds with no limit on the amount of development, either. The general plan is more protective. I would think the chairman of the planning commission would be aware of that. Let's hear more about locking in the general plan, as directed by the Costa Mesa City Council.

12/08/2009 06:59:00 PM  
Blogger Chris McEvoy said...

I can't agree anymore with la femme on all her points. As I sat and watched the City Council move forward with the General Plan/Ballot initiative I was quite surprised to learn Righeimer was supporting the weakest option and couldn't help but wonder why.

I don't believe Righeimer when he says he wants to save the Fair we all know and love. In retrospect the only way I see that happening is if Fairgrounds are not sold, yet Righeimer is still willing to RISK the Fairgrounds being sold off and kept as is. The staff report was quite clear about how "locked in zoning" really does nothing to preserve this Fair we all know and love If you want to keep something as is then all parts must be left as such. It doesn't make any sense.

Jim how come you never talk about opposing the sale?

How come you were not at the Council meeting to give your input as our sitting Planning Commission Chair and published champion of Locking in the Zoning? Like it or not you have influence in our City and should be accountable for your positions on issues.

12/08/2009 11:18:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Excellent points, Chris. I'm also disturbed by the perception on the part of some folks around town - as reflected in comments on the Daily Pilot online - that Riggy's Save The Fair is a city-sponsored activity. Perception is important and those folks have it wrong.

As reported in the Register late last night, OCProgressive was correct - half the Fair Board members on the non-profit foundation have bailed out. Another good call.

12/09/2009 09:12:00 AM  

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