Posted on Sat, Feb. 04, 2006

Fairgrounds or eBART? Debate starts

By Sarah Jane Tribble

The possibility of an eBART light rail station replacing Antioch's fairgrounds entered the realm of reality this week.

A city staff member and an eBART representative pitched the concept to Contra Costa Fair board members, asking for their support.

"The bottom line from what I can tell, is you guys hold all the cards," Victor Carniglia, deputy director of Antioch's community development, told them.

The board, which has said it has been uninvolved in discussions thus far, may join in on a city effort to study transit ridership possibilities and could take a stance in the coming months on whether it wants to sell. Board members took no action after an informational session and their next meeting is scheduled for early March.

For at least two years, eBART officials have said they were interested in using the 80-acre fairgrounds as a potential transit site. While located within Antioch, is owned by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and run by the local board.

If plans for the station do proceed, eBART officials have said they would use about 10 acres for a station and hope to encourage high-density housing and a transit village on the remaining land.

Public opinion about what should happen to the land varies vastly among local politicians, 4-H club members and even the fair board itself.

Some say the Contra Costa Fair should remain in Antioch as an economic engine and connection to the past. Others say it should move to a more central location and have suggested the recently released Concord Naval Weapons station.

Antioch City Councilman Arne Simonsen calls the fairgrounds a "jewel" and plans to fight to keep them.

Simonsen recalls showing Suffolk sheep, competing in cooking contests and camping on the property. As a teen, he even stole a few kisses there.

To think of those memories paved over by a mass transit station, well, that's too much for him to bear.

"This is history," Simonsen explained passionately. "This is a link to our past."

Still, Alamo resident Randy Nahas, along with other members of the Tassajara 4-H Club, said the fair's location is keeping others from creating such memories. The property is largely inaccessible to those who live in central and western Contra Costa because of Highway 4 traffic congestion, he said.

"The fairgrounds are out on the far end of the county and it's really difficult for the majority of the county to get there and use the fairgrounds," he said, adding that Concord would be centrally situated for easy access.

At the same time, Concord City Councilwoman Helen Allen laughed at the idea of the fair moving to their potential development land.

"What is this idea that the Concord Naval Weapons station is a dumping ground?" she asked.

Fair board member Roger Henry said he doesn't think the idea of moving the fairgrounds, which host an annual fair and other events throughout the year, to Concord is feasible.

Henry sternly told the city and eBART representatives this week that the board needs to be offered a good price to consider selling the land to mass transit. After all, he reasoned, the board would need a sum of money to buy replacement land elsewhere.

"We want to try to be reasonable and do what we can to help ease the transportation problems out here," Henry said in a phone interview late this week. "But at the same time, looking at it from the selfish standpoint, the fair is important. It helps bring families together, it helps create a meeting place . . . and it would be a shame if we no longer had a place."

Sarah Jane Tribble covers eastern Contra Costa growth and development. Reach her at 925-779-7134 or