Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fairgrounds Deadline Passed - Now What?

Today, August 31, 2010, was the deadline for the legislation necessary to complete the sale of the Orange County Fair and Event Center to be passed. That did not happen.

Now the only chance that is left to the advocates of the sale of the Fairgrounds to the City of Costa Mesa via it's Joint Powers Authority, the Orange County Fairgrounds Authority, is for a bill to either be passed with a budget bill or as a trailer to such bill. Neither seems likely at this time. You can read the Orange County Register story on this issue HERE.

As a Costa Mesa resident I've ridden this issue like a roller coaster, through the infrequent highs and the all-too-frequent lows. I've seen the city negotiators, led by City Manager Allan Roeder and City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow, work tirelessly to meet the unreasonable goals established by the state.

I've seen them have to change horses in the middle of the stream, abandoning American Fairs and Festivals as a potential partner and leap aboard Facilities Management West, hoping to cobble together a deal that would save the Fairgrounds. Based on many reports, this was a painful process, with many acrimonious encounters between the negotiators. We got a little taste of that when Mayor Allan Mansoor - not one part of the negotiating team - was read the riot act by FMW CEO Ken Fait during a City Council meeting. That outburst raised many an eyebrow among observers and may have shaken confidence in the process. It made FMW seem like bullies.

If the legislature does not pass a bill to facilitate the current sale, then the State Department of General Services promises to immediately put the Fairgrounds back on the market, with a minimum bid of $96 million - the amount that the City has bid. In fact, perhaps in anticipation of the sale failing, they've already issued the Request for Proposals. This time there will be no auction, though. Nope, the bids will be opened on September 30th and the State hopes to consummate a deal by year's end.

There is also apprehension that the State may try to exempt a potential buyer from local zoning and other regulations - specifically Measure C, which was passed in June to lock in the current uses of the Fairgrounds. If that happens, well, the image I chose says it all.

Speculation runs rampant about the future of that 150 acres of prime urban real estate. There are more than a few that think the 32nd District Agricultural Association - the appointed body charged with operating the Fairgrounds and running the Fair - may jump ship to the Great Park in Irvine if the current deal falls through. That venue, which is bleeding money, needs a reason for existing since the housing market is prohibiting the nearly-bankrupt Lennar Corporation from doing its planned development. It would be possible to carve out a couple hundred acres at that site for the Fair and ancillary events fairly easily.

So, we continue to sit and hope. We hope the folks in Sacramento find a way to get past whatever issues are keeping them from approving legislation. With each passing day the chances get less and less likely...

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Monday, August 30, 2010

"The Mouth" Touts Camp Pendleton

On Tuesday our old pal, The Mouth From Mesa North - writing with one of his many pen names, M.H. Millard - has a commentary appearing in the Daily Pilot suggesting using a little, teeny piece of Camp Pendleton for a new regional airport. You can read the commentary HERE.

As most of you know, there are few issues on which M. H. Millard and I agree, but he's got this one right. Heck, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

We missed the opportunity to create a regional airport at El Toro even though the voters said very clearly three times that was their preference. Only after the south county whiners finally got there way after the fourth election was that most perfect piece of real estate relegated to become even more homes. Years later that land still sits dormant, with only Larry Agran's big orange balloon as a sign of any kind of progress for all that time and money that's been spent.

Of course, from that balloon, 400 feet above the ground, you can look down at those still-pristine runways that are currently used to store boxed trees and recreational vehicles and fantasize about how great it would be to see commercial jets flying people and cargo around the world from Orange County

Millard is correct that it might be fairly simple to carve out a small slice of Camp Pendleton and create the kind of airport so necessary to relieve the load from not only John Wayne Airport, but Lindbergh Field in San Diego, too.

Rail lines already connect San Diego with Orange County, so traveling to an airport at Camp Pendleton would be a snap for travelers without placing significant additional burden on already-crowded freeways.

The question now is, "Did we wait too long?" The current expansion of John Wayne does not bode well for those of us already subjected to the daily strafing by low-flying jets. Once the caps currently in place are removed in a couple years there will be extreme pressure to build a longer runway to accommodate even larger airplanes, which means that parts of Eastside Costa Mesa and the Dover Shores area of Newport Beach will become unlivable.

If you need a reminder, this photo is of Playa del Rey, just west of Los Angeles International Airport. To accommodate the expansion of LAX, between 1965 and 1975 822 homes were vacated and over 2,000 people were relocated.
Now it the time to pick up Millard's gauntlet and begin pressuring our representatives in Washington, D.C. to consider a major regional airport at Camp Pendleton.

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Chili Cook-Off A Success

Our friends in the Halecrest-Hall of Fame area of Costa Mesa did themselves proud yesterday. Their sixth annual chili cook-off was a rousing success.

Blessed with perfect weather and a record crowd, the sponsors should be feeling pretty darn good about their event today.

More than 20 versions of chili were available for the public to sample, ranging from "pretty darn mild" to "blow your socks off spicy". My wife and I tried most of them and, much to my chagrin, she decided the chili being served by Mayor Allan Mansoor was the best because it "didn't bother her stomach as much". Arrrggghhh! According to reports, neither Mansoor nor his Assembly rival, Phu Nguyen, won the top prize.

Winners - there really were no losers in this competition - included the Wingnuts chili which was deemed to be the spiciest; the McCarthy clan of Planning Commissioner Colin McCarthy won for most unique and best overall was snagged by entry number 10. Sorry, my source didn't have the name of the contestant. Second over all went to #16 and third went to #3, Chris Blank. The people's choice award went to the Cowboy Chili. UPDATE: A little after 5:00 p.m. Jim Fitzpatrick sent me the official finish results: #3, Chris Blank & Grovey Chili; #2, Yvon Dunne & Mom's Chili, #1, Luise Fiduccia & Dad's Old Fashioned Chili. Congrats to all!

One thing about a chili cook-off - it's a gift that just keeps on giving. If I'd have been half-smart I would have set up a Tums booth!

As you might expect, many local politicians were seen at this event. Wendy Leece had a chili booth, as did Jim Righeimer. Also spotted in the crowd were planning commissioners Sam Clark and Jim Fitzpatrick, the latter as part of the judging panel along with Realtor Larry Weichman, Assistant City Manager Tom Hatch and Chamber of Commerce President Ed Fawcett.

(Hatch, Weichman, Fitzpatrick, Fawcett)
Parks & Rec. Commission Chairman Mike Brumbaugh, the driving force behind this event, seemed to be everywhere. We also came across his Vice Chair, Terry Shaw, cruising the chili booths, searching for that perfect sample. Former Planning Commissioner Jim Fisler, currently campaigning to return to his appointed seat on the Mesa Consolidated Water District Board, stopped to visit while sampling chili.

We saw Katrina Foley (here with Phu Ngyyen) working the crowd and had a nice visit with Fairgrounds CEO Steve Beazley, too. Everywhere we looked there were smiles, smiles and more smile. In fact, the only frown I saw during my couple hours at this event was on the face of one perpetually grumpy old Mesa North resident observed lurking about, apparently on the prowl for something anti-white about the event so he could write about it.

The vivacious young folks from the Costa Mesa High School Cheer Squad entertained the crowd with a few routines, including one with members of their youth cheer camp. Great job!


A half dozen custom and/or special cars were on display in the shade - a nice touch for us old car fans. I really liked John Rubright's Studebaker convertible.

Thanks to those of you who made it a point to say howdy as we wandered around the crowd. It's always nice to put a face on a name and your kind words about the things you've read here are much appreciated.

And, no, the Mayor was not happy with my commentary in the Daily Pilot. He got pretty animated when he told me I was off-base with my question about why he left his job last December. And, no, he didn't clear up the mystery at all - he just said he left to do "other things" - so we are left to speculate. He went back to slinging chili, less happy than he was before. Such is life in politics.


I did have a chance to meet Mansoor's competition, Phu Nguyen, as he was serving his chili to the crowd. He took a couple minutes to visit with me. Phu seems like a smart young fellow who is serious about going to Sacramento go make a difference in the state. Of course, that's what every candidate says. I understand he's been interviewed by two reporters from the Daily Pilot and that their stories will appear soon. I didn't try his chili - the thought of fish sauce in chili was off-putting for me.

Yep, this was a very special event and a great example of what makes Costa Mesa such a wonderful place in which to live.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Saying Good-bye, Mansoor's "Arabness" & Cassity's Wisdom

"Where ya been, Potstirrer?" asked one reader via email on Saturday, apparently wondering if I was taking a page from the California legislature and was off on a little hiatus. I guess he was worried that I hadn't posted anything since Thursday.


Well, I spent a big part of Friday at the funeral for a dear friend, Corki Rochlitz, who passed away unexpectedly on my birthday a couple weeks ago after what was supposed to be fairly routine surgery earlier in that week. During a hernia repair that wasn't essential but desirable according to her doctor, something went wrong, she developed sepsis, suffered a couple heart attacks on that Friday and passed away at noon on Saturday, the 14th. It was a punch in the gut for her family and friends.

So, on Friday my wife and I joined a couple hundred people at a catholic church in the South Bay area for a lovely service remembering our friend. The priest who officiated was a friend of Corki's for most of their lives and he gave a lovely remembrance. Her two sons did their best to speak of their mother, with only mixed success. Later the assembled masses convened at a fellowship hall to watch a slide show of our friend's life and to chat about her among themselves.

This woman was my friend for only six and a half years. She became my friend when I was in Las Vegas tending to my best friend, Larry Moore, since we were 5 years old as he tried to recover from a terrible motorcycle accident. Many of you know that story...

During my stay in Vegas I began sending nightly emails to a few mutual friends, telling them of my pal's condition. That distribution grew until one day near the end of the first week Corki wrote a nice note of encouragement and asked to be included on the list. She was also a retired LAPD officer and seemed to know, literally, everybody in that organization. So, she began forwarding my notes to most people in her email address book and would send me feedback from those folks. She was a welcome voice of calm encouragement and compassion at a time when it was sorely needed.

Following my friend's passing I finally met Corki face-to-face at his service and we had a nice visit. We continued to email each other and, over the past half-dozen years have swapped over 5,000 messages, many telephone calls and more than a few meals. She, a woman with boundless energy and compassion, became a friend in every sense of the word. We swapped stories on an almost-daily basis about our lives, families, friends - all the highs and lows you chat with friends about. She became a huge part of my life. And now she's gone...

Once again, as I spoke with many of her other friends Friday, I was reminded just how fragile life is and how quickly unexpected turns can appear as you travel down that road. For my pal, Larry, it was an unanticipated turn in the road. For Corki it seems to have been a nick to an internal organ during fairly routine surgery that caused it to end tragically. You just never know. So, once again, I remind you to tell those you love just how you feel about them. Don't wait...


With a tip of the cap to the folks at the Orange Juice blog for the loan of this image from an article they published in April, HERE, in case you missed it, the editors of the Daily Pilot decided to publish another of my commentaries Saturday. Actually, they published most of what I submitted to them. I included the missing two paragraphs in the comments section attached to the online version of my commentary, so you can read the whole thing HERE.

I find myself wondering how Allan Mansoor will feel when he reads it...


For those of you who still have not placed my pal, Chuck Cassity's blog, "Chuckmeister Unleashed!" on your list of favorites, here are links to his two most recent entries, "The Coming Unpleasantness" and "Let's Poll the Judges". Just click on the titles and give yourself a treat. You can stop by the Hi-Time booth at the Halecrest-Hall of Fame Chili Cook-Off today beginning at noon and let Chuck know how you feel about his words of wisdom. See you there.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fairgrounds Beat Never Stops!

In a week of surprises, the beat goes on regarding the sale of the Orange County Fair and Event Center.


I've previously discussed the events of last Tuesday night when the Costa Mesa City Council, cross-dressed as the Orange County Fairgrounds Authority, passed the resolution approving the ground lease with Facilities Management West or, rather, most of the lease. If you want to watch the proceedings on streaming video you can do so HERE. Several contentious issues were left unresolved but we understand the staff on both sides of the table are hard at it, negotiating for an acceptable final solution.

In the audience for a short time Tuesday was Orange County Register columnist, Frank Mickadeit. He heard enough - from the proceedings and from Jim Righeimer whispering in his ear from his seat immediately behind Mickadeit - that he began working his contacts about the issue and ended up with a conversation with Santa Ana Assemblyman Jose Solorio. You can read his column HERE.

Seems he thinks Solorio is still supporting the sale, is still ticked off at Mayor Allan Mansoor for his stupid, self-serving "rule of law city" resolution, but won't let that influence his decision on the necessary legislation to complete the sale. Unless, that is, Mansoor does something else stupid as a follow-on to his resolution - something he's alluded to in the recent past.

I still don't see much chance for the legislation to be passed, but I really want to be wrong on this one. We'll know by early next week, when the legislators are scheduled to head home to work their districts.

On a much, much happier note, there's a new City Talk clip available for viewing on the City web site that will perk you up. This one features Dane Bora interviewing Assistant City Manager Tom Hatch and I found myself smiling all the way through it. One of the reasons Costa Mesa is making it through these dire financial times - when staffing levels have been cut to 1980s levels - is because of people like Hatch. In a sports parlance, we've got great bench strength. You can watch the clip HERE. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

OCFA Approves Ground Lease

OK, I know I spoiled the suspense with the title of this one, but I didn't want you to have to hang around for 5 hours like I did last night for the punch line. Katrina Foley voted "No" in the 4-1 vote. Now for the details....


I must say that this meeting - one in which the fate of the largest financial transaction in the history of the city, including it's incorporation back in the 1950's, would be decided - was a surreal, disjointed event. I'm sure there are many reasons for this - the pace of the process imposed by the State, the pressure applied by the announcement earlier in the day that the Fairgrounds was back on the block and the fact that the City is working with significantly smaller staff because of budget constraints - but it was such a contrast when compared to most other similar meetings that it stood out, and not in a positive way. If you watch the tape of the meeting you'd think everything went smoothly - you had to be there. I've stalled this report long enough that the streaming video is now available for viewing HERE. You can also watch the taped replay at 5:30 tonight on CMTV.

First off, the meeting started 20 minutes late - the Orange County Fairgrounds Authority (City Council) had much to discuss in closed session. So, by the time they actually got started at 5:50 there were around 150 people in the auditorium, all eager to hear how this milestone event was going to go.

After a short staff report and even shorter discussion they voted 5-0 to accept the CEQA report.

City Manager Allan Roeder provided a brief overview of the surprise decision Tuesday morning by the State Department of General Services to put the Fairgrounds back on the block. Nobody on the dais was happy about it. Foley felt it was another example of the State bullying the City and it's proposed tenant to wrap up their deal quickly. And, as it turned out, that's precisely what happened.

Let me say here that the pace of this process has been unacceptably rapid from the very beginning. Tonight may have been the perfect example of Ben Franklin's old saw, "haste makes waste". When the OCFA board began discussing the actual ground lease and City Attorney Kim Barlow started to refer folks to certain pages in the handouts it was discovered that nobody in the audience had the staff report! Because of the haste with which the documents had been changed during the day it seems no copies of the actual most current lease were provided.

So, ten minutes into the discussion, a "short break" was called so copies could be produced for the audience. That "short break" ended up being an hour! And then, when they reconvened, it was discovered that the copy that had been used to make copies for the audience was Gary Monahan's copy - and he had removed some pages to make comments on! So, another ten minute break was called so copies of the missing segment could be made. The discussion finally began again at 8:00! That things were in disarray doesn't even come close to describing the scene. It was like a scene from an old Laurel and Hardy movie! Remember the one where Stan and Oliver are trying to carry a piano up a long, steep staircase? Well, you've got the picture of how this went.

By this time the crowd was thinning out - down to fewer than 60 people by this time. It was 8:55 before the first person had a chance to address the Board in public comments. I won't attempt to discuss every comment made - folks stood and spoke until 9:35. Once again, Orange Juice blogger Vern Nelson crooned a newer version of his "Derail the Sale" song. This time, though, Allan Mansoor didn't think it was very funny. However, resident Greg Ridge drew more than a few chuckles from what remained of the audience when he compared the City's situation to a guy with a gun to his head and a knife - to use Ridge's words - "down there". If you make one decision you get your head blown off and if you make the other you lose your "cojones"... Ridge's word, not mine. Ridge also alluded to "back room deals", turning and looking directly at Jim Righeimer as he said it. Riggy, however, was fully engrossed in his Blackberry, as he was virtually the entire meeting, and didn't notice.

Former mayor and President of the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society, Sandra Genis - perhaps the only person in the audience who actually read through the entire lease - used her time to cover some details, like the little one in which we will be asked to sign a lease with an entity that doesn't officially exist. She ended by saying to the Board, "It's not ready yet". She was right.

Joy Williams ended the public comments with her observation that she wasn't sure whether this was a shotgun wedding or an arranged marriage, but observed that the bride - the Fairgrounds deal - was like a bride being walked down the aisle with a bag over her head - you didn't know what you were getting until it's too late. Her observation was right on the money!

Guy Lemmon, spokesman for Facilities Management West, stood and was grilled by the Board - especially Mayor Mansoor - about their position on some controversial items in the lease. During this conversation, and those by other board members, it was determined that there were at least a couple issues about which each side had their heels dug in, including that of naming rights for the Fairgrounds.

Finally, shortly after ten o'clock, Barlow presented the options to the Board. After listening to those "options" again, they all basically boiled down to asking the Board to approve those elements of the lease they agreed with and giving staff direction on further negotiations for those they didn't like. She did reiterate that time was of the essence since they are obligated by the terms of their purchase agreement with the State to close escrow by the end of September - a very short 5+ weeks away.

Katrina Foley, opining that the legislation necessary to complete the sale was stalled in Sacramento and would likely be part of a budget bill, if ever, moved to continue this item until the first week in September so the differences could be resolved and we would have a fully-fleshed out lease to consider - no second was received.

Gary Monahan moved to approve the lease with several modifications - those that had been discussed at length earlier - including those where the City and the tenant were at odds. The staff and negotiating team would continue to work with the tenant to resolve those issues. That motion passed 4-1, with Foley voting NO. By the time the vote was taken at 10:30 only 45 people remained in the auditorium.

A couple observations - First, this meeting demonstrated the stress under which both sides have been working for months. Apparently emails with revisions to the deal had been flying non-stop in recent days, including as late as midnight Monday! It's tough to make good decisions at that pace.

Second, I'm not happy with the way this turned out. I think Foley had the right idea. There is no way a separate bill necessary for this deal to be completed can be passed now. The only chance there is for it to get passed and signed is if it's attached to a budget bill. The term "snowballs chance in hell" comes to mind. This issue should have been continued for a couple weeks so ALL the issues in conflict could be resolved. Actually, I don't think there is any chance this deal is going to pass - the State is going to stall the legislation until it's too late - and we will have expended all this time, energy and money to no avail. And now we wait to see if further negotiations on what amount to deal breaking issues will produce a final agreement. I'm not optimistic.

Don't get me wrong, here. I think the city staff has done an admirable job with skill, professionalism and tireless sacrifice of their personal lives during this process. They simply have been asked to do the impossible without the resources and time necessary to do the job they want to do. Allan Roeder, Kim Barlow and the other members of the bargaining team and the staffers who have supported them these many, many months deserve kudos for their efforts. Thanks to them all...

I did note tonight that Long Pham, Mansoor's opponent in the June Primary election, was in the house. I introduced myself to him and he told me he's mounting a write-in campaign for the November election. I'm not sure who he will steal votes from - his fellow-Republican Mansoor or the Vietnamese Democrat Phu Nguyen. At least those of you who won't vote for a Democrat for any reason will have an option to Mansoor now.

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