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Community Commentary: 'We just won' by stopping fairgrounds sale

July 23, 2011|By Jose Solorio

With the Orange County Fair now in full swing and the opening weekend drawing the largest first weekend attendance in fair history, it is hard to imagine that California's Department of General Services (DGS) actually was instructed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sell our precious 150 acres of traditional family fun to a private developer.

As it turns out, the governor's plan didn't materialize, but that end result was no accident. Since the Legislature passed a bill in July 2009 authorizing the sale of the fairgrounds as part of a good-faith effort to balance the 2009-10 budget, there has been a multi-faceted effort to convince two governors, an appellate court and legislators representing the rest of the state that the sale would not be in the best interest of Orange County, or even California.

From the O.C. Fair Board's attempt to form a private foundation to bid on the property shortly after Schwarzenegger signed that budget bill, to Friday's announcement that the sale is off, throngs of stop-the-sale supporters have been there every step of the way. The community activists who worked so hard to stop the sale proved that citizens can make a difference and their voices will be heard.

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Early on in the fight, I hosted a public hearing in Costa Mesa to better understand how the public felt about the potential sale and how that process would work. The public clamor was deafening and we all learned about the flaws in the sale process. The hearing was jam-packed with concerned citizens, and shortly thereafter, my first attempt to pass legislation to stop the sale in early 2010 resulted in a wheelbarrow full of more than 50,000 postcards of support arriving at Schwarzenegger's office.

The outcries of condemnation continued loud and clear as public opposition to the sale resulted in the first auction's low-ball winning bid being thrown out, and then a critical milestone, Costa Mesa voters said yes to general-plan amendments to restrict fairground development. All along the way, this publication did a stand up job of covering breaking developments that kept stop-the-sale interests alive.

In addition to the public response, scores of community leaders worked overtime to stop the sale. Several Orange County city councils, including Costa Mesa's (under the leadership of former Councilwoman Katrina Foley and former City Manager Allan Roeder), and the Orange County Board of Supervisors adopted resolutions or took official actions denouncing the sale.

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