Calif. assemblyman vows to fight planned sale of OC Fairgrounds

A large statue of a rabbit at the Orange County Fairgrounds.
A large statue of a rabbit at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

SANTA ANA — An agreement to sell the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa for $100 million has one local lawmaker vowing to fight the deal.

The winning bid came from Facilities Management West, the organization that had been working on a scuttled $96 million public-private deal with the city of Costa Mesa to acquire the 150-acre fairgrounds.

The Fait Family Trust and David Pyle, who owns American Career College and West Coast University, is behind Facilities Management West.

The public-private proposal would have required the approval of state lawmakers. When it appeared it wouldn't get enough votes, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Department of General Services sought new bids for the home of the annual county fair, and Facilities Management West won by going it alone with the $100 million bid.

"Facilities Management West obviously is delighted and eager to demonstrate that we have the creativity, capital and commitment to operate this important regional entertainment center successfully with integrity, new vitality and in the public interest,'' said Guy Lemmon, a spokesman for
Facilities Management West.

"Facilities Management West once again pledges to be sensitive to community concerns and suggestions -- as well as the historic commitments -- involving this iconic property,'' Lemmon said.

State officials expect to close the deal in December, before the new governor takes over, said Eric Lamoureux, a spokesman for the Department of General Services. He declined to say how many bids the state received.

Facilities Management West will make a $20 million down-payment this year and pay the rest over the next 35 years.

Earlier this year, the state sought bids and rejected the highest one of $56.5 million.

"This sale creates a new revenue stream to help shore up the state budget and prevent further cuts to programs or the need to raise taxes,'' said Ron Diedrich, acting director of the Department of General Services. "I'm pleased that through our patience and perseverance, we've truly earned the
highest and most certain return for California taxpayers.''

Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Anaheim, was championing the public-private proposal between Facilities Management West and Costa Mesa until September, when he announced he would no longer try to get the necessary approval from state legislators.

Solorio said there were too many issues Facilities Management West and the city would not correct in the legislation.

Solorio said he would fight the latest sale announcement with legislation he plans to propose Dec. 6.

"The citizens of our county want to keep the Orange County Fairgrounds under public ownership,'' Solorio said. "I and others will continue to fight to preserve the OC Fair, the equestrian facility and the talented staff that run the fairgrounds.

"Like last year's effort to stop the initial sale, I expect strong bipartisan support for the bill,'' Solorio added. "And come January, we will have a new governor that will be open to hearing our county's interests.''

Solorio said the current governor should "keep his promise'' and let state legislators have a say on the sale.

"It makes no sense to lose forever our county's link to the past just for a small and fleeting financial gain, especially in a down real estate environment,'' Solorio said. "I urge this governor and candidates (Jerry) Brown and (Meg) Whitman to stop the sale once again.''