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State advances fairgrounds sale

If approved by state Legislature, tentative deal would have fairgrounds authority paying $19.2 million to Sacramento.

June 23, 2010|By Mona Shadia, mona.shadia@latimes.com

California has tentatively agreed to sell the Orange County Fairgrounds to the city of Costa Mesa.

A news release issued by the California State and Consumer Service Agency reports that a tentative deal to sell the fairgrounds for $96 million was reached with the city.

The release also states that the Orange County Fairgrounds Authority, which comprises the five council members, will "immediately" pay $19.2 million to the state. The rest of debt will be paid over the next 40 years with a 5% interest rate.

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The deal must be approved by the state Legislature before it is finalized.

Costa Mesa is off the hook as far as being financially responsible for the Orange County Fairgrounds' debt. But although its deal with Facilities Management West gives it the property title of the 150-acre fairgrounds, maintains the site for fair and exposition use, it doesn't give Costa Mesa what it has been fighting for all along — complete public oversight.

After a meeting in closed session and a tense debate in an open session, a frustrated City Council Tuesday approved a financial and operating agreement with Facilities Management, the private financial group that once offered $55 million to the state for the fairgrounds. Councilwoman Katrina Foley dissented.

The Orange County Fairgrounds Authority will meet annually with Facilities Management to discuss business plans and give suggestions. Facilities Management, which has a 55-year lease with the city, doesn't have to take any of the city's suggestions.

"I'm very disappointed," said former Costa Mesa Mayor Sandy Genis, who led efforts to preserve the fairgrounds. "And my primary disappointment lies in the total lack of public accountability and public participation that I see there, both in terms of how we got to where we're at and in terms of how things would operate in the future."

A threat from the state to place the fairgrounds back on the market by Wednesday if a financial and operating agreement was not agreed upon also made it difficult for the City Council to back out or demand more from Facilities Management.

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