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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Blogger Bruce Krochman said...

RE Long Pham...

Considering that there has been quite a bit of discussion about the Vietnamese vote going to Phu Nguyen (see here: ) it isn't much of a stretch to think that a deal was brokered by Mansoor's backers to get someone to pull votes away from Nguyen.

8/25/2010 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger Flo Martin said...

DUH! Long Pham is a plant, for sure, to pull Vietnamese votes away from Phu Nguyen.

8/26/2010 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Bruce and Flo, you may be correct. He didn't do much campaigning for the primary.

8/26/2010 12:34:00 PM  

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