By Ellyn Pak
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
COSTA MESA They’ve crammed into public hearings wearing red, waved signs at motorists on Fair Drive and collected 6,000 postcards at the weekend swap meet with one message in mind: “Derail the sale.”
At first an ad-hoc, catchy phrase from a group of fairgrounds advocates, “Derail the Sale” is now the official slogan for a coalition of residents calling for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to halt the sale of the OC Fairgrounds. “We’re leading the charge in an effort to stop the sale of the fairgrounds, said Brian Lochrie, a spokesman for the newly formed Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society. “If we don’t act now to stop the sale, we could lose the fairgrounds.”
In the past few weeks, dozens of residents and representatives of groups have coalesced to urge city and county leaders to make halting the sale a priority. Scrapping the sale all together would keep the fairgrounds as-is and preserve a longtime community asset, they argued.
The movement slowly began when the state legislature approved putting the site on the auction block earlier this summer.
Jim Righeimer, chairman of the city’s Planning Commission, launched a “Save the Fair” effort to inform residents that without locking in stringent zoning restrictions, the fairgrounds’ future would be threatened. The City Council has since decided to look into launching an initiative to allow voters to decide on zoning restrictions on the site. At a town hall meeting on Nov. 9 sponsored by Assemblymen Jose Solorio and Van Tran, hundreds of people – equestrian community representatives, vendors, union employees, college students, longtime residents and more – showed up to voice their opposition to the sale of the 150-acre site. A few days later, a group aired their opinions to the Fair Board.
Brad Shefmire, whose wife Nicol owns Shefmire Sport Horses at the OC Fairgrounds Equestrian Center and runs the Park Place Foundation for underprivileged children, said his family’s livelihood depends on the fairgrounds. “It’s a labor of love, it’s a passion,” he said. “That’s what I’m fighting for.”
Much of their life is dedicated to their business at the fairgrounds, he said. As part of the Equestrian Coalition of Orange County, whose members have gotten involved with the society, Shefmire said he has worked for years to maintain the horses at the fairgrounds.
Last week, the City Council chambers was packed with people asking city leaders to scrap the sale of the fairgrounds. The City Council voted unanimously to urge the governor to halt the sale, in addition to looking into placing a bid for the site if their efforts fail.
Righeimer said it would be ideal if the city bought the site and lease the property to a nonprofit that would run its operations if the property remained on the chopping block.
“Derail the sale” proponents are continuing to collect thousands of postcards with signatures and plan to send them to Sacramento.
“The ideal situation is for the governor to hear the voices of the citizens of Orange County and understand the impact the sale would have on the state and the 2,000 workers who would lose their jobs,” said Ruben Smith, whose law firm Adorno Yoss Alvarado & Smith helped with the incorporation of the group. He hopes the incorporation is formalized by the end of the week.
Smith, a former Fair Board chairman, said selling the fairgrounds would have a negative impact on a community that benefits from site’s tax revenues, jobs and overall economic activity. “I think that people are realizing that it’s an important asset for the county,” he said.