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Fair Board rejects Senate bill

Members say they want to ensure a secure future for the fairgrounds and will be asking for clarification of SB 741.

May 23, 2013|By Bradley Zint

The Orange County Fair Board agreed Thursday to formally oppose a bill that activists warned could lead to privatization of the publicly owned fairgrounds.

Theresa Sears and Reggie Mundekis of the Orange County Fair Preservation Society alleged that Senate Bill 741, while seeming to address the funding problems of California's network of 52 fairs, actually provides no definition of what a fairgrounds is or what constitutes a fair.

According to documents they presented to the board, those flaws and more could represent the first steps toward the "dismantling" of California's fair system, which operates on state-owned lands. The bill, introduced by Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Salinas), would allow the public real estate "to be handed to private developers without proper public input or oversight," they wrote.

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The unanimous vote from five Fair Board members — Kristina Dodge and Nick Berardino were absent; David Ellis and Gerardo Mouet had to leave early — will effectively dictate, in the form of a letter to state legislators, the Orange County Fairgrounds' specific opposition of the bill.

Fair Board Chairman Douglas La Belle said the board appreciated the Preservation Society's support and advocacy on the issue, but he felt that assertions that the bill paves the way toward fairgrounds privatization are subjective.

Still, La Belle said the organization doesn't "want to go through the fair sale process again. We want to make sure that the integrity of this property as a fairgrounds for the long term is assured.

"And it's not only this area, but for fairs in general across the state."

The move to keep the state-run property public came in contrast to actions by previous Fair Board members, a majority of whom in 2009 supported the proposal to privatize the 150-acre site. Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had recommended selling state properties as a means to reduce the state's budget deficit.

Fair staff and attorney Roger Grable will write the opposition letter in the coming days.

The letter will ask for clarification of what constitutes a fair and what types of events or activities are permissible on public fairgrounds, said La Belle. It will also ask about the need for a public hearing for any scenario involving "nontraditional uses" of fairgrounds, such as leasing out a portion of the property to a fast-food restaurant, he said.

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