by Kimberly Rivers
At a Special Meeting on Jan. 7, the Board of the Ventura County Fairgrounds voted 4 to 3 in favor of allowing gun shows in 2022.
The vote took place without any discussion by board members in front of the public; however, the board had a nearly two-hour closed session just prior to the vote.
The board is governed by a set of state laws referred to as the Bagley Keene Act, which is similar to the Brown Act, but governs state committees. These “sunshine” laws require these bodies to conduct most public business in view of the public. Each act includes a few exceptions, such as allowing the board to receive legal advice in a closed session.
“However, this exception should only be used to obtain legal advice or discuss legal strategy. It should not be used to discuss the pros/cons of a policy or the advisability of a policy — that discussion should be public,” said Monica Price, legal fellow with the First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit organization based in Sacramento. “They shouldn’t hide in closed session to discuss an unpopular or divisive issue.”
When the board reconvened into open session, Board President Leah Lacayo apologized for the long closed session and said it was “very important for our board to fully understand…I am reporting out that we received legal information,” and that there was “no action taken…a motion is in order.”
At that time Boardmember Michael Bradbury made a motion to allow gun shows on the state-owned property in the coming year and to “direct” the Fairground CEO, Barbara Quaid to “enter into negotiations” for contracts for gun shows. Board Vice President Armando Lopez promptly seconded the motion.
At that time, Karen Peters, co-leader of the Ventura County Chapter of Brady United, spoke out and asked when public comment would take place. Typically, public comment is received and considered prior to public officials taking action. That speaker stated she had received information before the meeting and had apparently been “misinformed” about when public comment would occur in the meeting.
Brady United is a national nonprofit organization aimed at preventing gun violence in the United States.
Lacayo responded to Peters saying, “If you’re patient Ms. Peters…its open now…it’s a virtue just remember.” Peters said she had asked Quaid when the public comment would take place and that apparently Quaid had been “misinformed” because she was “misinformed.” Lacayo responded saying that the board was just informed about “how it would go,” and that the board did not know in advance about when public comment would take place. She called for public comment at that time.
There were six public speakers, with two supporting gun shows at the fairgrounds. Those opposed focused on the prevalence of gun violence and that not hosting gun shows on state property would in no way infringe upon the rights of those wishing to purchase and own guns as there are plenty of avenues to purchase guns without the fairgrounds hosting gun shows.
Over 45 written comments were submitted in advance of the meeting to the Fair Board, all opposing gun shows at the fairgrounds.
Boardmembers Bradbury, Leslie Cornejo, Lopez and President Lacayo voted in favor of the fairgrounds hosting gun shows, with Boardmembers Cecilia Cuevas, Shante Morgan-Carter and Dan Long voting against.
Lopez made one comment during the vote, saying that he felt the state needed to take the lead on this issue rather than the fair board.
State Senator Monique Limón and Assemblymember Steve Bennett have indicated their intention to introduce legislation that would bar the Ventura County Fairgrounds from hosting gun shows. Similar legislation has already passed for at least one other fairground property in the state.