Orange County Fairgrounds: Profits Over the Public?

In recent news, the newly-elected Governor killed a deal by ex-Governor Schwarzenegger that would sell eleven state-owned buildings to a group of private investors.
Included among the buildings:

  • California’s Supreme Court Building
  • Headquarters for the state Department of Justice, Health, Education, Emergency Operations and the PUC; and
  • State income tax collections facility (okay, maybe this last one is fine.)

The plan was to sell the buildings for $2.33 billion dollars to a local Orange County group of investors, and lease back the building to the state. The idea: this sale will save our deficit. The problem: 1) the sale of any public land in California almost guarantees that it is gone forever; and 2) the short-sighted plan will end up costing the state more when the $56 million dollar lease-back plan is put into place. (See Los Angeles Times, Brown to cancel sale of 11 California government buildings, 2/9/11,

In our own backyard, Aitken * Aitken * Cohn took on a similar pro bono case to assist local activists in preventing the state from selling our beloved Orange County Fairgrounds to private investors. The 150-acre fairgrounds has hosted the Orange County Fair since 1949. The current legal struggle centers around the state’s plan to sell the Orange County Fairgrounds to a private investor for $100 million dollars, with no plans to lease it back. The sale has been mirred by allegations of back-room dealing and improper lobbying. (See Voice of OC, and

While Governor Brown has cast doubt on the OC Fairgrounds sale, telling the Los Angeles Times, “This is not the best time to be selling real estate,” I believe the public needs to ask, “When is a good time to sell public land to private interests?” When dealing with land in California, especially large tracts of open space in densely-populated urban areas like Costa Mesa, one can guarantee that a sale to private interests would remove the land from public hands forever. The lawsuit involving the Orange County Fairgrounds is ongoing. As there is no guarantee that the advocates for the OC Fairgrounds will prevail, I urge all interested in this vital local issue to seek a political resolution by contacting the Governor’s office, and your local assemblyman and state senator. Tell them to “Stop the Sale.”

Ashleigh E. Aitken, Esq.