MOORLACH UPDATE — OC Register — January 18, 2010

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

It’s not too often when the OC Register’s editorial board and I do not agree.

There are some of us who do not like to see people fail.

And there are some of us who let people fail in order for them to learn lessons.

There are some lessons that can kill you.

You don’t want a pilot to fly from here to Denver at a 10,000 feet elevation in clouds.  The phrase, “well, next time he’ll know that the Rockies were there, doesn’t cut it.  Sorry, there is no next time.

The same is true with the OC Fairgrounds.  Once it is sold, it is sold.

Who cares what your political persuasion is?

If you’re trying to prevent people from making a tragic mistake, that is not “ill-advised.”  Attempting to get Sacramento’s attention is not “squawking.” 

Being a principled free-market proponent doesn’t mean you can’t seek to preserve a public trust (such as the fairgrounds or park land), or jump in and let Sacramento know they’re botching it by engaging in what amounts to a meaningless fire sale.

One wonders if the Register’s editorial board is too jaded and is unwilling to be pragmatic, or is even unwilling to admit a role for government for preserving public trusts, such as fairgrounds and park lands?   

As for me and a few others in elected positions, we see Sacramento screwing up everything, including the OC Fair.  We’re disturbed and happy to confront a wrong-headed Governor on this and other issues.

Below is the Register’s lead editorial in yesterday’s (Sunday’s) edition.

Editorial: Fairgrounds sale moves ahead

An Orange County Register editorial

The controversy over the potential sale of the Orange County fairgrounds came to a head Thursday morning during the live bidding phase of the public auction for the 150-acre site. As expected, despite efforts by local government officials to tilt the free market and thwart the sale, bidders offered up varied bids. And the winning bidder stated his intent to keep it a fair, enhance its use and develop around it. If that happens, this story could have a happy ending for all parties.

But, the sale is far from a done deal.

The seven initial bidders, who submitted written offers to the state prior to Thursday’s live auction, were: the city of Costa Mesa and county of Orange cooperative, $6.5 million; Advanced Real Estate Services, $17 million; Tel-Phil, the company that operates the weekend swap meet, $1,000; Facilities Management West, $55 million; Anaheim Sports Holdings, $20 million; Forde and Mollrich, the PR firm notorious for its $100,000 a month no-bid contract with the Great Park, $2 million; and Craig Realty Group, $42 million.

At Thursday’s auction, Craig Realty Group, developers of the Citadel outlet center in Commerce and the popular Cabazon outlet shops, won the auction with an increased bid of $56.5 million. Steve Craig said he intends to keep the Orange County Fair going but sees ways to make the property better and perhaps add to it.

We’ve supported the sale to a for-profit entity in the belief that running a fairgrounds is not a government function, and that the free market will best be able to determine the property’s highest and best use. If Mr. Craig acknowledges the historic role of the fair, so much the better.

Most disconcerting to us in the process is that supposed supporters of private property and free markets have abandoned those principles and advocated a government enterprise. Supervisor John Moorlach, speaking with news media at the auction, questioned the intentions of Craig Realty Group to continue the annual fair. He has said the fairgrounds should remain under public control to ensure its use. He is not alone. Assemblyman Van Tran, R-Costa Mesa, who had voted, correctly, in favor of selling the property, has now flip-flopped to oppose it. Allan Mansoor, the mayor of Costa Mesa and candidate for Assembly, also opposed the fair auction. These are just three of the examples of fair-weather free-marketeers representing Orange County voters.

Local support will not be the only hurdle. Assemblyman Jose Solario’s ill-advised bill to "derail the sale" passed unanimously Tuesday in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee and was headed for a vote by the full Assembly. The governor would likely veto the measure.

Also, the bid amount has to go back to the state for final approval. A criticism of the sale is that the $56.5 million bid was lower than some estimates of the value of the property, which have ranged from $90 million to $180 million.

Nevertheless, Mr. Schwarzenegger should continue to support the sale.

Undoubtedly, the squawking about the sale of the fairgrounds will continue but if the process has taught us anything thus far it is that many of Orange County’s self proclaimed free-market conservatives and privatization proponents can talk a good game, but when it comes to putting principle into policy, they fall flat.

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