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Community Commentary: Recent fairground ruling was encouraging

July 09, 2011|By Greg Ridge

I read with disdain former O.C. Fair Chief Executive-turned-Facilities Management West spokeswoman Becky Bailey-Findley's piece, "FMW had big plans for Fourth at the Fairgrounds" (Forum, July 5).

The irony of that piece being printed on the same day the court ruling finally came down — which, once and for all, killed the takeover — did not escape me.

I started fighting to stop the sale, any sale, of the fairgrounds from the start. Back in the winter of 2009, the Fair Board, led by Dave Ellis and Steve Beazley, were bent on paving over the Equestrian Center for more parking and "flat flexible use."

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While I was busy getting more than 10,000 signatures from county residents to preserve one of the last dirt patches that permanently housed live animals on the property, word came down in July about the Fair Board passing a resolution authorizing the governor to sell the property.

Now we were fighting to stop the sale of the entire property, and it's been a long fight.

Having been an active spectator in this process, I can tell you there have been ample opportunities for FMW to do the right thing. They have chosen to increase their bottom-line profits at every chance.

During the long and costly negotiations with the city of Costa Mesa for a public-private partnership on the property, FMW showed the residents and council its true motives. Community programs and involvement, increased public access to the facility and any public oversight or input were never accepted by FMW as a condition of the sale. In fact, they were rejected out of hand.

Eventually, FMW left the city standing at the altar alone, and pursued this with a vengeance through hired lobbyists and political insiders at the state level.

What killed the deal? It was the simple fact that we, the public, owned the property.

The Fair Board was stopped, by a temporary injunction against the sale, from transferring the title of the property on New Year's Day 2011. Without that transfer of title, the state couldn't take over the property.

Now a new era has begun for the fairgrounds. The recent appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown of Orange County Employees Assn. General Manager Nick Berardino to the board sends a clear message.

Moving forward, as a resident and vigilant watchdog member of the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society, I am encouraged by the governor's history and actions taken to help keep our fairgrounds permanently in public hands. Future board member's appointments will be highly scrutinized by all those who have actively fought for over two years to stop this privatization

Promises of pancakes and fireworks are too little too late. Coming from a former fair CEO who instead of pancakes gave this community ticket corruption scandals and alleged conflicts-of-interests during tense city negotiations — all should well remember the role she played in this fiasco.

Because we do.

GREG RIDGE is a member of the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society and a Costa Mesa resident.

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