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County of Orange is seeking a State Probe

November 2009
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The latest on the OC Fairgrounds

This has been another bad week for the Orange County Fair Board, and, by proxy, the public.

An attorney for the County of Orange is seeking a state probe because the OC Fair Board appears to be violating conflict of interest and open government laws by trying to buy the 150-acre property through a nonprofit it formed while still operating as the public’s guardian of the land.

(The state originally proposed to put the fairgrounds, along with other high-profile public properties such as the Golden Gate Bridge and San Quentin prison, up for sale this summer to make up for its record budget deficit. But only the fairgrounds remained on the list, thanks for lobbying for the OC Fair board members — the very people interested in buying it. Final bids on the property are due in January.)

Last night, a skeptical Costa Mesa City Council voted unanimiously to ask the state to stop the sale, saying the process is too rushed for public agencies to make a proper bid, among other complaints.

As cub reporters, journalists were always taught to follow the money. And now, several theories are starting to emerge about how the new owners of the OC Fairgrounds could make significantly more money from the prooperty.

The two most prominent ones:
• Increase the number of concerts are the Pacific Amphitheater, which is operating at about half-capacity. With state-of-the-art sound systems and mellower acts (to avoid past neighborhood problems), this could become a cash cow.
• Take over the Orange County Market Place. Out of an empty parking lot on the OC Fairgrounds, Bob Teller created the thriving Orange County Market Place, a mainstay in the community and a business that has generated upward of $100 million for the state over the past 40 years. The sale of the property effectively breaks the lease that Tel Phil has with the state, and with Market Place revenues down because of the economy, this provides an opening for new ownership./ It’s interesting how Republican leaders, who say they swear by the free market, can’t wait to takeover an enterprise someone else has built up.

Of course, there are other theories out there, some WAY out there. But these two are the most frequently mentioned and have the most validity.


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