Friday, November 13, 2009

Who, Me? & More Fairgrounds Sale Stuff

First thing off the bat, let me thank the e
ditors of the Daily Pilot for their very kind and completely unexpected selection of yours truly as part of the annual DP 103 list. The DP 103 is always a fun publication in which we are reminded of the contributions many of our friends and neighbors make to the quality of our lives. I'm honored and humbled to be included in this year's list - along with two shopping centers, one golf resort, a hospital, the O.C. Fairgrounds and "the recession". Yep, I'm in good company down there at #101. Thanks to Brady Rhoades and his crew for the selection, and to all the other folks on the list for their very real contributions. This is pretty heady stuff for an old guy with too much time on his hands.

Back to the serious stuff - the seemingly never-ending drama around the Orange County Fair and Events Center.


Thursday the Fair Board had their regularly-scheduled meeting and were visited by, according to all reports, over 150 enthusiastic visitors intent on
stopping the sale of the Fairgrounds. Although I did not attend, members of the local media did a good job of providing us with coverage. You can read the Daily Pilot coverage HERE and the Daily Voice coverage HERE.


Gus Ayer at the OC Progressive Blog has a very interesting new development, HERE, in which he presents a time line
that demonstrates that the Fair Board created it's new non-profit foundation to buy the Fair well in advance of the passage of AB22 by the legislature and before the governor signed it. There is innuendo that former State Senator Dick Ackerman was hired as a de facto lobbyist by the Fair Board to facilitate the creation of AB22 at a time when it was illegal for him to perform such work. I'm having a very hard time with what looks like a "fixed" issue - the Fair Board deciding the State should sell the Fairgrounds, then hiring a guy to make it happen and forming a foundation to buy it on the cheap. The stench of this situation is palpable!


Skimming the local blogs and Facebook pages produces some interesting situations, too. It seems that Costa Mesa Planning Commission Chairman Jim Righeimer - who started a movement to ostensibly "save the fair" - may have less altruistic motives. Apparently, several comments have been deleted or failed to be posted on Riggy's S
ave the Fair Facebook page. When confronted about this at the Fair Board meeting those in attendance report his reaction to be "childish", and that the comments deleted were "negative". Well, duh, Riggy - there are folks around who differ with your view of the world - get used to it. That stench mentioned above is lingering around Riggy, too. He's too tight with the GOP power structure and guys like Fair Board Vice Chair Dave Ellis for my comfort zone.


Late this afternoon, after the original publication of this entry, I was made aware of a bogus Facebook page, designed to look like an official City of Costa Mesa page, which has a very obvious slant toward Righeimer's Save the Fair organization. It originally used the official city seal, which has subsequently been replaced by a logo. This site is obviously an attempt to further muddy the waters regarding just whom thinks what about the Fairgrounds sale. This has a familiar odor to it very similar indeed to other Riggy actions.


In the agenda for next Tuesday's City Council meeting there is an item for the council to consider which strongly recommends they send a letter directly to the governor requesting him to quash the sale of the Fairgrounds. It seems advisable for those parties interested in this issue to make their feelings known that evening.


Although Assemblyman Van Tran pledged (to the press, mainly) that he will carry a bill to the legislature to quash the Fairgrounds sale, I'm thinking that such a bill has a much better chance of making it through if was co-authored by Assemblyman Solorio. Van, as a lame duck Republican in the Assembly, doesn't carry much weight. Solorio should sign on, too.


So, here's a suggestion for you. Fire off an email to Assemblyman Jose Solorio through his legislative aide, John Nam, requesting him to either join Tran on a bill or to generate one on his own. Here's Nam's email address: I spoke with John today and he guaranteed to me that Solorio would see every email on this subject.

In the meantime, neighbors, here a couple reminders of what we're talking about here. You can view them over and over again throughout the weekend. Enjoy.



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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More Fairgrounds Frivolity and 1901 Newport Plaza

In the case of the story that never stops - the sale of the Orange County Fair and Events Center - two local blogg
ers have presented us with more insightful coverage.


Over at the Orange Juice Blog, author Vern Nelson hammers away at the folly of this sale. You can read his post HERE. In case some of those images on his blog look familiar, yes, he borrowed them from me.


Former mayor Sandra Genis, a land use planning consultant, has been
slapped awake by this issue and has begun posting again on her blog, La Femme Wonkita after a long hiatus. She wants to put a halt to the sale and today she presents us with an excellent primer on just what can and cannot be done with the Fairgrounds under various circumstances. Her entry is a "must read" for anyone interested even minimally in this issue. You can read her post HERE. It's good to see her back in the saddle again.


Tomorrow morning the Fair Board meets for their regularly-scheduled meeting at 8:30. The buzz is that they c
an expect company in the form of angry, frustrated stakeholders and residents wishing to make their views known. You may recall that all the Fair Board members who attended last Monday's meeting at City Hall skipped out as soon as the Public Comments portion began. That, of course, demonstrated one more time exactly how much they care for the opinions of the public.


Also, for your reading pleasure, there is a chance that a commentary I submitted to the Daily Pilot will appear in print over the weekend - I'm not exactly sure when. You'll have to join me in looking for it. For my part, I just hope most of it makes the cut... If it gets eviscerated, as sometimes happens, I'll publish the entire thing, unedited, here next week.

NEWS ALERT! Costa Mesa resident Chuck Cassity has a commentary in the Thursday edition of the Daily Pilot suggesting we, the residents of Newport-Mesa, buy the darn Fairgrounds ourselves. Click HERE to read Chuck's very clever suggestion.


On another subject entirely, the Costa Mesa City Council held a joint meeting of the council
and the Redevelopment Agency on Tuesday - the Redevelopment Agency is just the council in another dress. In a closed session they had several items apparently dealing with 1901 Newport Plaza - the condos that are known as Pacifica At Newport Plaza - which, from the way I read the staff introduction, has gone into receivership. The items to be discussed were pending and anticipated litigation and purchase of property. I wonder what the heck all that is about?

Some may recall the turmoil that surrounded that project after it was approved when residents raised a stink about it and promptly got sued,
along with the city, by the developer. I don't recall the exact details, but the height was dropped and the number of "affordable" units was codified. Perhaps some kind soul at The City will let us know what's happening here, since it is our money being spent, after all.

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Veteran's Day

Today, November 11, 2009, is Veteran's Day. Please take a few moments to remember those brave men and women who have served this country with honor and bravery and those who continue to do so.

I've provided a couple short clips to help you remember the sacrifice each of our men and women in uniform make to defend this wonderful country.


Monday, November 09, 2009

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 w
ere 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.

To say the crowd was passiona
te 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 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.


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 lik
e 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.

Next came Costa Mesa Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who presented the City's resolve to k
eep 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.

Next came a p
anel 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.

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.

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 sp
eakers 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 folk
s 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.


Gus Ayer, w
ho 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.

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."


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 ta
ke care of this appointed board. And basically I think they all need to be kicked off."


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.


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.

Nothing today changed my opinion that something really reeks about this whol
e 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.

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.

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.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Fairgrounds Sale - A Missed Opportunity

Last week I submitted a long commentary on the proposed Fairgrounds sale to the Daily Pilot, which I hoped would be published on the Forum Page before the meeting scheduled at City Hall tomorrow, Monday, November 9th.

As you Daily Pilot readers already know, there was no Forum Page in the Daily Pilot on Sunday, which is where I had been led to believe my commentary would appear. Apparently, there was a production problem that kept the Forum Page from being produced. I have no expectation that it will appear in the future since the content will be stale following the meeting tomorrow.

So, even though much of what it contains has already appeared here in different segments, I'll provide the full, unedited text of my submission for whatever use you care to make of it. I plan to attend the meeting and will report later.

This issue of the potential sale of the Orange County Fair and Events Center, or whatever the Fair Board is calling it these days, seems to have inflamed the passions of many Costa Mesa officials and residents. With few exceptions, strident voices from many venues cry out to save "our" Fair.

Members of the current Fair Board have formed a new foundation - under curious circumstances, some might say - to place a bid for the Fairgrounds. Although the formation was announced several weeks ago, it seems to be having difficulty filling it's ranks beyond the core of six current Fair Board members, including President Kristina Dodge and uber-politico Dave Ellis. According to a piece Dodge recently wrote on these pages, the foundation wants to "save the Fair".

Costa Mesa Planning Commission Chairman and Daily Pilot columnist Jim Righeimer launched an initiative campaign called "Save the Fair", hoping to garner enough signatures in sufficient time to place on the June, 2010 ballot a measure to guarantee the current Fairgrounds remains as-is regardless any change of ownership.

Another group has been formed with the expressed purpose of having the Fairgrounds taken off the block. They operate under the name of "Derail the Sale".

The City of Costa Mesa, through it's City Council, has stated categorically that they want the Fairgrounds to remain as-is in the future and have instructed the staff to prepare a "Specific Plan" for that 150 acre site to guarantee that no future owner could develop the land. The City has also begun plans to purchase the Fairgrounds outright, to further insure that it remains unsullied by development. And, the City is currently studying the placement of its own initiative on the June ballot to create an unbreakable codification of the status of the Fairgrounds in perpetuity.

The County of Orange has also expressed interest in purchasing the site, perhaps in partnership with Costa Mesa.

All of this activity may give the State pause in it's plan to sell the Fairgrounds. If so, it will take legislative action to overturn the decision and the Governor to approve it. The State has already shown a willingness to play hardball with Costa Mesa, as evidenced by the letter sent from the Real Estate Division of the General Services Department strongly suggesting the City not move forward with any action that would devalue the Fairgrounds, including the Specific Plan.

There has been innuendo that some developer will come in, buy the land on the cheap because of it's restrictive zoning, then "buy" itself a new City Council - it only takes three votes - and have the land re-zoned for whatever project they might have in mind. Who knows, we might be seeing a new auto mall - not likely in this economy - yet another shopping mall or, more in line with the current zoning, a nice hog farm and slaughterhouse. Maybe a Native American tribe will work a land swap and we would end up with a nice neon-laden 24-hour casino across the street from City Hall.

Through all this flurry of activity several points strike me as curious. For example, if, as has been stated by State officials, the goal is to maximize any profits from the sale of the Fairgrounds, why would members of the current Fair Board - appointed by the Governor - even consider acquiring that site to perpetuate the current activities? It seems likely that there is more to their plan than has been divulged. I suspect that some of them might have in mind a nice, tidy retirement nest egg, funded by the segmentation of the Fairgrounds and selling off to a variety of developers large parcels around the perimeter of the actual Fairgrounds - perhaps even the entire Fairgrounds.

Any such plan, of course, would be quashed by Costa Mesa's plan to restrict the Fairgrounds use.

What would happen to the Fair, you ask? Well, just to the south of us you'll find a very large, very available chunk of Orange county currently known as The Great Park. It's also known by other less flattering, but maybe more accurate, names, too. Once the Fairgrounds is sold to another entity, the Fair Board could easily choose to consider other options, like The Great Park. They could even drag along with them the Orange County Marketplace, the Equestrian Center and maybe even have a nice, new amphitheater built, as well. After all, the State would no longer own the land and any purchaser is going to try to find ways to meet whatever financial obligations they incurred to buy the land. Anyone currently using the Fairgrounds could logically expect, at the very least, an increase in rent - most likely a very large increase.

If the Fair leaves, what of the current Fairgrounds? Will we have taken a short-sighted position by locking in the land use forever via the initiative? Will we have painted ourselves into a corner with no way out - even after the paint dries?

I suggest our elected officials take a very deep breath and try to think this process through beyond their initial emotional response to being sandbagged by the State. If The Fair moves on - nothing in life is guaranteed - do we really want to find ourselves stuck with 150 acres of prime real estate with no way to maximize it's value? It seems to me that we may not have really given the consequences of our actions enough thought. The City cannot afford to freeze that land in time, particularly with the tremendous financial challenges we face today.

I'm not suggesting we ignore the sale of the Fairgrounds, but I think we need to manage this process better and do so realistically. At the end of the day, we don't want to be standing there like some rube who just bought the Brooklyn Bridge.

Monday, November 9th, Assemblymen Jose Solorio and Van Tran will co-host a public hearing in the Costa Mesa City Council Chambers at 77 Fair Drive from 9-11:30 a.m. at which a panel of interested parties - state and local elected officials and others with vested interests - will present their views on this issue. Questions and comments will be taken from the audience at the end. Reservations are required. Call John Nam in Solorio's office at 714-939-8469. The meeting will be televised live on Costa Mesa TV, Channel 24 on Time Warner and Channel 99 on ATT's U-verse system. It can also be viewed live via streaming video at the city web site and will be replayed for future viewing. This seems to be a good place to get your questions answered.

In the meantime, the clock is ticking on any kind of an initiative plan and the contract City Attorney, which seems to have been dragging it's feet since last spring when Gary Monahan first asked for a report, has been tasked to present options to the City Council in the very near future. It's time to make your voices heard on this subject.

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