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Model trains will keep steaming along

Council extends lease for Fairview Park attraction by five years, but debate continues over land use concerns.

September 17, 2013|By Bradley Zint

In a surprise vote, the Costa Mesa City Council on Tuesday night agreed to extend the Orange County Model Engineers' operating license by five years, a move that keeps the popular train rides in Fairview Park rolling along for a while longer.

The nonprofit's agreement, which expired this month, was extended through a motion approved by Council Members Gary Monahan, Wendy Leece and Sandy Genis. Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger dissented.

The original contract had been proposed to last through December 2014. Monahan's support for the measure came as a shock to many in the audience given that he usually votes with Righeimer and Mensinger.

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"I was actually gonna vote [for the trains] to go until 2016, cause that's when I'll be off the council," quipped Monahan, whose children ride the trains.

The steam-powered trains, a Fairview Park staple since 1988, had been operating on a 25-year agreement and another 25 years had been sought. In July, the Parks and Recreation Commission recommended that the OCME's license be extended only through the end of next year.

The commissioners said the agreement should be examined again after the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee reviews the park's master plan and today's community needs.

Righeimer stressed that "clearly, everybody in the community loves the trains … the trains are not leaving Fairview Park."

But he said having a private group monopolizing the real estate — possibly worth $80 million, or $2 million an acre — isn't practical until the citizens advisory committee finalizes its recommendations for uses in the park.

Leece countered, "I think its really unfair to show such disrespect for these people who have given so much to Costa Mesa, even if they don't live here, to give them 14 months."

Adults and children ride the trains — collectively known as the Mackerel Flats and Goat Hill Junction Railroad. The trains take up about 40 acres within the 208-acre park. The OCME operates a 7.5-inch gauge railroad and has more than 5 miles of track.

About 100 people make up the core, dues-paying OCME membership, and they have, in the 25-year history, invested an estimated $750,000 toward the trains, said member Hank Castignetti, who lives in Huntington Beach.

He said the group provides about 40,000 rides a year, or about 1 million over the 25 years. Rides are free, though donations are accepted.

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