Lobdell: Stay vigilant on fair happenings

December 04, 2010|By William Lobdell

You've got to grudgingly admire Facilities Management West's moxie.

The winning bidder to buy the 150-acre Orange County Fairgrounds property in Costa Mesa (at a bargain basement $20 million down and $80 million paid over 40 years) has gone for what salespeople call the "presumptive close."

Relying only on its public relations efforts of late, you would think that a) the Newport Beach-based company already owned the property and b) it would soon be taking over operations of the Orange County Fair.


How presumptuous.

But what did you expect from a company that abandoned a partnership with the city of Costa Mesa — jilted like a teary-eyed bride at the altar — during the bidding process in order to get a better deal for itself?

Don't let Facilities Management West's clever public relations campaign fool you. The company still has to clear two high hurdles — on two different tracks — before its assumptions match reality.

First, it needs to complete the deal to buy the fairgrounds property. But litigation, community opposition and a new Democrat governor potentially stand in the way of getting the public property in private hands.

Watch how much pressure Facilities Management West brings in the upcoming weeks to close the deal by year's end. It doesn't want to risk what a Gov. Jerry Brown administration might do.

But let's say, for argument's sake, that Facilities Management West clears that hurdle and becomes the property's owner. It will have bought 150 acres of land. That's it.

It did not purchase the Orange County Fair itself. That entity belongs to the people of California via the 32nd District Agricultural Assn.

People are rightly confused about this because of last week's events. Why, for instance, did the state issue pink slips to the workers of the 32nd District when it still is the operator — and guardian — of the public's fair? And why did Facilities Management West promise jobs to those full-time employees, as if it had already worked out a deal to operate the fair?

Does anyone else get a foreboding sense that powerful GOP forces in Sacramento and Orange County are doing everything possible to help Facilities Management West buy the property and wrangle control of the publicly owned fair by the end of the month?

A reasonable person viewing Facilities Management West's presentation last week to the 32nd District workers would conclude that the company would be running the fair.

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