By BARBARA VENEZIA
The Orange County Register
Last week’s column about how members of the Orange County Fair Board were creating a non-profit organization to make a bid to buy the fairgrounds hit a nerve with readers. Emails I received had some very interesting observations and raised even more questions about the fitness of this group to manage.
Most commented they didn’t buy the party line in my article stating the current fair board would “keep the fairgrounds ‘as is’ with plans to expand community programs.” The equestrian element of the fairgrounds that’s being deleted is a perfect example of not expanding community programs or keeping the fairgrounds “as is,” some said.
I know of one group that approached fair management months ago floating the idea of a partnership between the fair board, the Santa Ana Heights Project Advisory Committee and the Back Bay Equestrians to create a new equestrian center in Santa Ana Heights, replacing the one being lost.
The Santa Ana Heights Redevelopment Agency has approximately $250,000 that could be used to create a new center, and the non-profit group The Back Bay Equestrians could raise money for the effort too. The fair board wasn’t interested. Hmmm…maybe readers have a point.
Last week fair vendors openly protested the sale, concerned about potential higher fees imposed by a new owner without state oversight. Are they just being paranoid? Maybe not – a little birdie told me that the fair board member leading the charge for the sale, Dave Ellis, has been very vocal about raising such fees.
And let’s not forget the Market Place vendors who were “included,” (and I use that word loosely), in the O.C. Fair this year to squelch complaints about the fair running longer and they being displaced. I was shocked when I saw where they were located on my night at the fair.
Off the beaten path, sat mostly closed booths. Those open, had vendors sitting around not doing much of anything. To add insult to injury, the Market Place area surrounded the track where the pig races took place. Some vendor booths were actually behind bleachers and the smell; to put it delicately, wasn’t very conducive to shopping.
And why didn’t fair management open an official investigation into ride attendants who were openly texting and not paying attention to operations after a CBS news investigation uncovered these disturbing facts?
My “fair experience” this year wasn’t very pleasant. The last Thursday night of the fair it took me an hour from Santa Ana Heights to the fairgrounds, a trip that normally takes about 15 minutes. Traffic was a mess.
In a time when county fairs across the country lowered entry fees, O.C. raised them. Food prices at the fair were very expensive for what you got. For three adults – entry fee plus two barbecued beef sandwiches, one chicken sandwich, one order of fries, a cookie, and sodas, we spent about $80 and hadn’t even been on a ride yet!
One thing’s for certain, controversy over the sale of the O.C. Fairgrounds won’t go away anytime soon and there seems to be more questions than answers these days.