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Keeping it fair(grounds)

June 13, 2010

Costa Mesa voters made the right choice Tuesday by approving a ballot measure that limits future uses of the Orange County Fairgrounds. Measure C restricts this Orange County treasure to its current use — as a fair and exposition center — unless a vote of the people determines that another plan is more appropriate. This means that if some great idea comes along in the future, voters can change their minds.

In the meantime, residents were smart to OK Measure C, particularly because the state, which owns the fairgrounds, put the property up for sale. Because Costa Mesa residents are the ones who would be affected by changes to the fairgrounds they should be the ones to decide changes to its use.

For now, at least, Costa Mesa residents voted to keep the 150-acre site intact. We cannot imagine Orange County without the fairgrounds, and we doubt that most folks around here can.

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This ballot box action allows the annual Orange County Fair to remain at that site and allow the equestrian center, weekend O.C. Marketplace, agricultural and livestock activities, concerts and emergency operations uses to continue. The land cannot be developed for residential uses, a hospital, gambling or casinos, a shopping center or hotels. But maybe someday someone will propose a mix that makes sense, and Measure C allows for alterations.

All of this, of course, is conditioned on whether the state actually sells the property in order to shore up its budget deficit. There are grumblings in Sacramento that the Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, dislike Costa Mesa's recent resolution as a "Rule of Law City" — a way to send a message to illegal immigrants — and may try and block the sale. We've also heard that the volatile real estate market, which appears to be inching back, could also affect sale conditions.

Still, as it stands, Costa Mesa is in the midst of negotiations with the state to buy the land for $96 million in a partnership with Facilities Management West. We are not quite ready to endorse that deal until more specifics are revealed, but we can congratulate voters on giving the OK to Measure C. No matter what happens with the state, local residents will have a strong voice as future decisions are made pertaining to this landmark, as they will be the ones affected.

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