Fairgrounds Swindle: An End Run Around Measure C?

Was Costa Mesa’s Measure C to protect the Fairgrounds a waste of $100,000?

The City of Costa Mesa is poised to buy the Orange County Fairgrounds, then lease it out to a private company called Facilities Management West.  It will be a fifty-five year lease giving the City very little control as a landlord. In many ways, it’ll be as if the property had been sold to FMW.  But there’s an exception—a big one!

In November 2009, the Costa Mesa City Council voted to prepare a ballot measure requiring voter approval for any changes in City general plan regulations for the Orange County Fairgrounds.  At the time, the State was ready to sell the fairgrounds at auction.  If the high bidders were private developers, then they’d probably use any available means to redevelop the fairgrounds for maximum profit.

As Jim Righeimer said in his October 9, 2009 “Rigonomics” column http://articles.dailypilot.com/2009-10-09/features/dpt-righeimer101009_1_orange-county-fairgrounds-citizens-of-costa-mesa-vote :

All it takes is three votes on the City Council … let’s just say it would be too tempting for the landowner, over time, to stack the City Council their way.  I’m not trying to sound too cynical, but … unions have gotten their candidates elected in a lot of Orange County cities for less than $100,000 each.

Similarly, November 3, 2009 Costa Mesa City Council meeting, Council Member Monahan stated  http://costamesa.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=4&clip_id=1322 :

If we just do a …general plan at a council level, then any three council members at a future point in time could change that …We all know how elections work, and if somebody’s looking at a multi-million dollar property…what’s  a few extra hundred thousand dollars to throw into a campaign?

February 16, 2010, the council voted to place the measure on the ballot, creating what we now call Measure C. They noted that the cost could exceed $100,000 but it would be worth it if the fairgrounds could be saved.  June 8, 2010 we went to the polls, and eighty-eight percent of Costa Mesa voters said “yes” to Measure C.

Now the fairgrounds is protected, right?  Not necessarily.

Costa Mesa has formed a “Joint Powers Authority” — with itself — called the Orange County Fairgrounds Authority (OCFA).  Technically OCFA will be the legal entity buying the fairgrounds, not the City.

If the OCFA board is the same as the City Council, why does it matter? Under State law  http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=gov&group=65001-66000&file=65400-65404 separate government agencies, including joint powers authorities like OCFA, can be exempt from local planning regulations under certain circumstances.  Thus, Measure C may not apply.

Not to worry.  The lease states that all local land use rules, including Measure C, will apply.

But wait! The lease also provides for amendment of the lease itself.  And how will that occur?  By three votes on OCFA, of course.  Does anyone think that some shark of a developer won’t figure how to work that angle in a New York minute?

According to Righeimer and Monahan, three votes on the city council can be bought, so why would we rely on three votes on OCFA?  Will three otherwise corruptible council members suddenly sprout wings and acquire halos as they meet as OCFA?

Such a deal!  The lessees get control of the land as if they owned it, but don’t have the same Measure C limitations as a private land owner.  Don’t you just love those public/private partnerships?

Tomorrow afternoon – Tuesday – may be your last chance in 55 years to be heard
on the sale of the OC Fairgrounds.
Come let the Costa Mesa City  (or OCFA) know your concerns!

5:30 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Costa Mesa City Council Chambers – 77 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

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