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State Making Moves on Fairgrounds Sale Despite Court Order

Voice of OC
NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.

Most thought the drama involving the sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds would take a holiday break after a state appellate court this week issued a restraining order that halted the entire process until February.

Yet the saga continues.

The Schwarzenegger administration is scrambling to transfer title to the property from the 32nd District Agricultural Association (which is controlled by the Orange County Fair Board) to a shell entity.

The transfer might be significant because it could allow the Schwarzenegger administration to move the proposed sale to the company Facilities Management West to a point where it would have to be consummated regardless of what the courts or the incoming administration of Jerry Brown have to say, according to sources close to the case.

In order to complete the transfer of the 150-acre property, the state will need approval from the Fair Board, which includes three new Schwarzenegger appointees. That meeting is scheduled for Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, lawyers for a coalition of Fair vendors, activists and elected officials who want the sale blocked have sent a cease-and-desist letter to the state Department of General Services calling on officials to rescind their action or face contempt-of-court sanctions.

State officials are declining to comment, citing pending litigation.

Observers say what is happening constitutes a last-minute political push by Schwarzenegger and other proponents of the sale to save it from an almost certain death at the hands of the incoming Brown administration.

State officials first tried to schedule a meeting to consummate the title transfer on Dec. 31. Yet sources close to the process say that meeting was killed because of legal concerns arising out of Sacramento.

In essence, there were fears that scheduling such a meeting would open officials up to a contempt order, the sources said.

Yet just as quickly as the meeting died, it was revived and rescheduled for New Year’s Day.

The lawyers for the opponents say this week’s order by the Fourth District Court of Appeal forbids any such action.

“The [appellate] order is broad and sweeping,” said Thierry Montoya, a lawyer representing the sale opponents. “And it attempts to stop the DGS [Department of General Services] from taking any action.”

Right now, it seems that the state Department of Consumer Services (the umbrella to DGS) is taking the action. That’s similar to a pattern the state used before when an Orange County Superior Court judge imposed a restraining order. After that order, DGS worked through FMW to have meetings with the Fair Board and employees at the property.

Montoya said attorneys working on behalf of those opposed to a sale of the Fairgrounds would stay active on the issue.

“We are not inclined to allow them to continue violating the stay,” Montoya said.

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