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Proposed sale of O.C. fairgrounds tough sell in Costa Mesa

By NORBERTO SANTANA Jr. and BRIAN JOSEPH
The Orange County Register

Angry Costa Mesa officials said Friday they won’t go along with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to sell the Orange County Fairgrounds and will refuse to rezone the property, which could make it worth far less to prospective buyers.

The fairgrounds are one of seven “high value” state landmarks the governor proposed selling in order to raise as much as $1 billion for the cash-strapped state government. Other key landmarks on the block are the Los Angeles Coliseum and the

“We’re not feeling too good about the governor today,” said Costa Mesa City Manager Allan Roeder. “The city of Costa Mesa is not going to change the zoning and land use of the Orange County Fairgrounds. It’s now zoned as open space. And it’s our intention to keep it like that.”

The city council has said it would not rezone the property ever since State Sen. John Campbell proposed selling the fairgrounds in 2004.

“I believe the city council would be very solid on keeping it institutional,” Mayor Allan Mansoor added.

That means any private investor looking at buying the fairgrounds would be looking at a big open field with little to no prospects for commercial development. That’s a far cry from the estimated value in the governor’s budget of up to $180 million.

Mansoor said he doesn’t support selling “the heart of the community” just to balance a budget. He said the governor’s plan is nothing more than a bluff.

“This is just scare tactics by the governor. He’s playing the role of the big bad wolf saying, ‘I’ll huff and puff and blow your house down if you don’t vote for my borrow-and-tax initiatives,” he said.

“I feel like I’m being held up and need to call 911.”

Orange County lawmakers, however, generally support the idea. State Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said that many state properties are underperforming and in the hands of a private owner might be busier and generate more sales tax revenues.

Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana, also said the idea has merit, but added that he’d like to see the governor “collaborate” with Orange County officials on the idea.

Orange County fair board members, who are appointees of the governor, said they were told by state officials to keep operating on a “business as usual” basis.

On a Thursday morning conference call, President Julie Vandermost said, state officials said a potential sale would take some time. “It’s important that the public know that nothing has changed. Everything is status quo,” she said.

Fair officials are preparing this weekend for a popular off-road exhibition show.

And across the state, other fairs are busy looking into the restrictions on their deeds. Many of those fair grounds were donations by families to the state governments and may have title restrictions, said Stephen Chambers, executive director of the Western Fairs Association.

“It’s important that the public understand that the state didn’t buy this land, but instead it was donated locally,” Chambers said.

Orange County fair officials are preparing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the fairgrounds, which were donated by the U.S. military.

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