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O.C. fairgrounds bill OK'd in state Assembly

The legislation that seeks to keep the venue in public hands will now move to the Senate for consideration.

By Kristen SchottPublished: June 02, 2011 09:30 AM

Rep. Jose Solorio's bill that seeks to keep the O.C. fairgrounds in public hands will now move to the state Senate, thanks to the Assembly's 62 to 3 vote in favor of the legislation on Wednesday.

The legislation – AB 35 – would allow the state to consider a revenue-sharing agreement with the Orange County Fair Board as an alternative to selling the venue to a private company.

The option could generate at least $100 million over a 40-year period, according to a statement from Solorio.

“Total OC Fair revenues from 2005 to 2010 were more than $168 million, and the Orange County Fair Board says they are willing to share with the state,” Solorio said. “Why sell an asset for a one-time revenue boost when the fair could provide an ongoing annual revenue stream to the state and keep our fairgrounds in public hands?”

The state's Department of General Services last fall said it plans to sell the fairgrounds to Newport Beach-based Facilities Management West (FMW) for $100 million. The proposal, however, faced opposition from a number of local businesses and community leaders who filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the sale; Solorio is among those involved in the legal action.

The lawsuit is currently in the Fourth District Court of Appeal; a decision is expected this month.

Meanwhile, in an earlier letter to the state Assembly's Appropriations Committee, FMW said AB 35 "fails to protect the integrity" of the property and is "not in the public interest." The bill could cost the state a minimum of $50 million, according to the company.

The fairgrounds plays host to a number of community events and has a large impact on the local economy. For example, the annual Orange County Fair – which kicks off July 15 – last year brought in more than $2.8 million in sales tax revenue, according to Solorio's statement.

“The governor and the Legislature really need to find solutions to save our fairs throughout the state,” said Solorio. “I’m proud my colleagues are supporting our efforts to provide the governor with more options to save the Orange County Fair, and are also talking about the importance of the statewide fair network.”

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