Derailment Report





First Things First:

  • The mass movement to derail the theft, privatization and dismantling of our Fairgrounds continues tomorrow, Thursday morning at 8:30, at the Fairgrounds (Gate 4 off of Arlington.) Here we will be confronting the Fair Board members themselves – the architects and beneficiaries of the planned sale –  who walked out of Monday’s meeting before having to hear any of us speak.
  • The key to our stopping the sale remains Assemblyman José Solorio, who by the end of Monday’s meeting was wavering between supporting and opposing the sale.  We should all call his office (714) 939-8469 or contact him by clicking here, and strongly urge him to “carry legislation to reverse AB 22 and stop the sale of our Fairgrounds.” The legislature is able and willing to do this, but they need leadership from an OC Democrat.

Our friend Geoff “The Pot Stirrer” West at A Bubbling Cauldron wrote a highly satisfactory narrative of Monday’s spectacular but frustrating meeting, freeing me up to offer a few humble observations and opinions, as follow:

Boogiemen, Red Herrings, and Bait & Switch

They want us to be worried about big developers coming in and buying up this boogiemanproperty for hundreds of millions, bulldozing the fairgrounds, and putting up condos and office towers. If we’re worried about THAT, then the idea of “saving the fair” by selling it to a “benevolent nonprofit” that swears up and down to “keep it a fairground” will seem like a reasonable compromise, maybe even a positive good.

This nightmare scenario of a paved-over, concrete Costa Mesa is not a real danger, thanks to our strong zoning ordinances which nobody has the stomach to change, and which may even be strengthened.  There are no developers interested in this property, and the Governor’s pipe dream of getting $200 million for it is absurd or dishonest.

Strengthening our zoning restrictions is a good thing and we support Councilwoman Foley’s efforts to do so, but it’s also a double-edged sword as it keeps away higher-dollar bidders making it easier for the Board/Foundation conspirators to get the Fairgrounds for a real low price.  That’s why everyone on both sides is backing the stronger zoning, and calling it “local control.”

The Dangerously Ambiguous Catchphrase “Local Control”

Like I just said, that phrase can be understood to mean protecting our county fair with strong zoning, but the phrase was used most by the three sale backers who spoke Monday, with the meaning “sell the fair to a local group.”  Those three speakers were all paid to be there – board members Kristina Dodge and Steve Beazley, and their slick ally Costa Mesa Planning Commission Chairman Jim Righeimer of the Orwellian-named “Save the Fair” – EVERY ONE of the over forty public speakers opposed the sale.  And yet whenever the rhetoric of “local control” was heard, many sale opponents would applaud.

This led to the disconcerting spectacle of Assemblyman Solorio summarizing the whole meeting thusly: “What I mainly hear  is that everybody here wants LOCAL CONTROL.”  No way, José – what you heard was we DON’T WANT THE FAIRGROUNDS SOLD. (NB. All quotes in this post are paraphrases by memory or notes; I may alter them when I can view the video.)

What REALLY Seems to be Happening

Everything that has happened with this issue has been behind the scenes and suspiciously rushed, so we citizens need to go with what we know.  What we know is:

  • No other county has had to sell its fairgrounds or other prized state property; every county fought tooth and nail to keep theirs except ours.  Arnold’s grand plan to sell off “billions of dollars worth of state property” shriveled into AB 22 which sells 17 office buildings and the Orange County Fairgrounds.
  • The Fair Board, which consists of political appointees of the Governor – wealthy campaign contributors all, and deep believers in privatization – secretly formed themselves into a “Foundation” – certainly in violation of Open Meetings Laws (the Bagley-Keene Act) – with the purpose of selling the Fairgrounds to themselves.
  • The board hired longtime, just-termed-out State Senator Dick Ackerman, to lobby for them (illegally) to smooth the way for the sale and “write legislative language” facilitating it.  (Not only was Dick’s lobbying illegal but the Board’s use of state money to pay him – they won’t disclose how much – was also probably illegal.)
  • The legislation enabling this sale was rushed through quickly with no public notice; on Monday, infuriatingly, the politicians Solorio and Tran protested that “We heard no public opposition;”  the angry crowd roared  “We had no idea this was happening” as police attempted to hush them, and Geoff observed local official’s faces flush red with rage.  Meanwhile the representative of the State Dept. of General Services smugly presented the sale as a fait accompli which nobody can stop, but we know better.

The Fair Board’s Dazzling Vision of a Fair Just For Them

boardLet us take a trip down Memory Lane – not even a long trip, just a year or two.  Remember the hundreds of thousands of dollars of front-row concert tickets and lobster dinners that the Board and their buddies were treating themselves to on the taxpayer dime, until the Register and Orange Juice blew the lid on it and public outcry made them reform temporarily?  That is the kind of behavior that they see as their natural prerogative, and to which they will revert once all public scrutiny is off them and they OWN the Fair.

Fair Board CEO Steve Beazley groused and groused Monday about the horrible plight of him and his 84 “fellow full-time workers” working for the state, and rhapsodized how much better it would be for all of them once the fair is privatized (read, owned by him.)  The union representative told a quite different story.  The Board obviously dreams of a pared-down non-union workforce without the benefits state employees enjoy, caring much more about their profit margin. (Beazley wolfishly feigns concern over the employees’ furlough days.)

We also know that the Board has been threatening to pave over the very popular but non-lucrative Equestrian Center, having already cut its acreage from 15 to 7.5.  To pay off the interest on the loan they’ll need to purchase the property, as we’ll see in the next chapter, they’ll need to dispose of other popular but non-lucrative assets.  Sez Gus Ayer:

“Say goodbye to the low impact horse stables, 4-H clubs, the Centennial Farm, and the All American Boys Chorus. Say goodbye to a County Fair with blue ribbons, animals, local arts and crafts.  Say hello to new deals that make more money!”

Chriss Street’s Devastating Presentation

StreetWhen a public servant prefaces his presentation with innumerable provisos of “I’m not taking a position here,” “these are just the facts, make of them what you will,” and “don’t forget how broke California really is,” you can tell he’s about to deliver a message that will discomfit his friends – an honest message that is.   And sure enough, after rattling off the modest profits the Fairgrounds have made in each recent year, he showed us a chart that depicted how much financing costs, per $10 million on the fairgrounds’ price, the buyer would have to pay each year, based on four different types of loans.  The lesson was unspoken but unmistakeable – if any sort of buyer wanted to come out of the purchase solvent, they would have to make huge changes of some sort to the fair to make it much more profitable.  Exactly what we Derailers have been saying!  No sale will make sense in conjunction with keeping the Fair we know and love.


Dodo Bird Van Tran’s mystification over the phrase “per $10 million” was an amusing sideshow.  “How do you know the price will be $10 million?”  “Why $10 million?” “What if it’s over $10 million?”  Just multiply, Assemblyman.

van tran

Oh, did I mention Senator Dick Ackerman’s ILLEGAL LOBBYING?

GusIn his closing statement, Van Tran positively seethed with righteous faux outrage at those (starting with Gus Ayer – pictured left) who “maligned” his old friend Dick Ackerman for illegally lobbying the legislature for the sale. Tran’s supremely Tran-like response to the allegation was “Of course he didn’t lobby – it would have been illegal for him to lobby!”  Yes it would, Van, that’s just what we were saying.  Again, we know this:

  • The Milton Marks Postgovernment Employment Restrictions Act of 1990 prohibits members of the legislature from lobbying for one year after they leave office.
  • Ackerman left office November 30, 2008.  That’s STILL less than a year ago, and the activities in question were obviously much earlier this year.
  • Ackerman himself told the Daily Pilot, “In order for the fair to be sold, it would require budget language to authorize the state to sell it. I did some preliminary work to get the language in the budget.”
  • Since Gus blew the lid on this, they have been careful with their language.  The Board/Foundation’s Beazley admitted that Dick did some “consulting” for them up in Sacramento, and claimed he didn’t remember how much (PUBLIC FUNDS) he paid him (a very dubious claim from a money-grubbing Randian like Beazley)
  • But lobbying is lobbying is lobbying, and several papers including the LA Times have blithely characterized it that way:

Steve Beazley, the fair’s chief executive, acknowledged hiring former state Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman to lobby state officials after the governor proposed the sale.  “We did get some insight,” Beazley said. He said he did not know how much Ackerman was paid for the consulting work.ackerman

And presumably, if someone in law enforcement found a pair, they would see it that way as well.

Urbane old Dick, after fourteen years in the legislature, the last few spent as Senate Minority Leader, is doubtless a lobbyist par excellence, knowing everyone who’s anyone in Sacramento in a backslapping manner, and familiar with all the ways of affecting legislation.  If his wife loses her bid for assembly, he’ll still have quite a career up there representing the interests of all who will pay him.  He obviously did a fine job for the Fair Board/Foundation – Solorio seems positively scared to reverse his vote despite all the public support he would have.

(also not happening – local government purchase)

Just to get one other little distraction out of the way:  two other parties allegedly interested in purchasing the property are frequently mentioned so that all the attention won’t be on the Board/Foundation conspirators:  the County of Orange, and/or the City of Costa Mesa.  I.e. you and me.  We can’t afford it, can we?  I didn’t think so.

But even if you are moved, by pastel visions of horsies and livestock, to pull out your checkbook, first ask yourself, while your pen is still poised above the check, “Why US?  Why should Orange County have to pay for Sacramento’s financial mess?  WE’RE ALREADY A DONOR COUNTY – that is, we already pay far more in taxes to Sacramento than we get back in services.  No, forget this!  We’ll just keep things as they are!  This fair is our birthright as California citizens living in Orange County!  Let them balance their budget on someone else’s back!  As one wise lady exclaimed Monday, ‘Our fair isn’t broke, the state is broke!'”  Still feel like shelling out your hard-earned cash?  Me neither.

Solorio on the Brink of Discovering his Courage and Character

I feel that perhaps the Honorable José Solorio is just on the verge of discovering what a brave and righteous legislator he can be.  He is on the verge of learsolorioning that you can’t always be a NICE GUY to everybody because there are some real scumbags out there who will talk you into anything.  He’s on the verge of learning that sometimes you just have to PISS SOME POWERFUL PEOPLE OFF to do the right thing, and also that the right thing is not always the MIDDLE GROUND between the right thing and the wrong thing, but sometimes it is just very simple and even popular.

And that it takes a BIG MAN to admit a big mistake and take the necessary steps to change it.  Make those calls and e-mails, I have a feeling that José is on the brink of becoming an Assemblyman we can all be proud of, and not just another Sacramento hack.

But Tomorrow Morning

…we’ll be confronting the six people who set this travesty in motion, and we won’t be walking out on them like they did to us Monday.  As Michele Bachmann says, “I want you to see the whites of their eyes!”

Derail the Sale!

Fairgrounds Gate 4 at Arlington, Thursday Nov. 12, 8:30 AM


(proudly cross-posted on the OC Progressive)

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.