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Fair sale blocked for now

Judge issues restraining order that temporarily blocks the sale of the O.C. Fairgrounds to Facilities Management West.

November 17, 2010|By Mona Shadia, mona.shadia@latimes.com

SANTA ANA — An Orange County Superior Court judge on Wednesday issued a temporary restraining order blocking the sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds to a private developer.

A consortium of businesses, led by the operator of the regular swap meet at the fairgrounds, Tel-Phil Enterprises, petitioned the court to temporarily halt the $100-million sale.

Judge Frederick P. Horn ordered the state's Department of General Services (DGS), which is in charge of selling the 150-acre property to shore up money for ailing Sacramento coffers, to halt transferring the fairgrounds to Newport Beach-based Facilities Management West.

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The real estate company has agreed to buy the property, but Tel-Phil Enterprises has called the bidding process flawed and unfair.

"We're not going to let you sign a contract," said Gene Livingston, the attorney representing Tel-Phil and American Fairs and Festivals, the group of businesses that want to stop the sale.

Horn said he wouldn't loosen up the restraining order's restrictions, which include barring the state from talking with Facilities Management West about terms of the sale.

"I don't have enough information to make an informed decision," he said. "There are too many moving parts to this."

A hearing on whether the court should issue an injunction regarding the sale is scheduled for Dec. 8 in Santa Ana.

"Anything that will stop what is basically a giant mistake makes sense to me," said former Costa Mesa Mayor Sandy Genis, who heads the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society.

Guy Lemmon, spokesman for Facilities Management West, said his group is confident the state will prevail and be allowed to sell the property. Though it plans other uses throughout the year, Facilities Management has pledged to keep operating the annual Orange County Fair every summer.

"The Tel-Phil lawsuit represents a last gasp effort by a three-time unsuccessful bidder," Lemmon wrote in an e-mail. "FMW believes the lawsuit is without merit."

Michael Glenn Witmer, a state deputy attorney general, tried to persuade the judge to allow the state to continue its negotiations with Facilities Management West — short of executing a deal — in exchange for pushing the hearing date to later in December.

There appear to be concerns that the transition of power in Sacramento — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the one who first called for the sale — could alter the state's position.

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown has not taken a public position on the sale.

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