An article from the Orange County Register, June 30, 2015
by Sarah de Crescenzo
To avoid the “questionable decisions” and political interference that have plagued the development of the Great Park in its first decade, Irvine needs a strategy for the next 10 years, an Orange County grand jury says.
The grand jury on Tuesday released a 46-page report titled “‘Irvine Great Park: A Legacy of Hubris?” in which it says the city should develop and publish a 10-year plan for completing the park.
The report accuses the City Council that oversaw the project of poor management, faulty oversight and a lack of transparency.
The findings echo details published earlier this year in a pair of reports about Great Park spending, issued by firms hired by the city to investigate allegations of mismanagement.
Taxpayers “did not get their money’s worth regarding the Great Park investment during this first phase,” the grand jury report states.
Of the 1,347 acres of the former El Toro air base slated to become a park, 205 acres are considered developed, although about 117 of that are used for agriculture. That developed land also includes the Heritage and Aviation Exhibition in a former aircraft hangar and an arts complex.
At the end of 2014, spending tallied $251 million, a price tag the grand jury said would have been smaller had the city not overreached by crafting a plan to develop the park all at once instead of in phases.
The grand jury suggested the dissolution of the Great Park Corporation, because its Board of Directors also acts as the council, which would continue to oversee the project. The Great Park is run by the city of Irvine.
The panel also recommends adopting an ordinance to limit council members’ influence on city operations and the reduction of “extravagant expenditures,” such as the operation of the iconic orange balloon.
Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lalloway said the report will push the city to come up with ways to prevent similar situations in the future.
“It’s going to cause us to think more, and hopefully by thinking about it, we, with the help of others, can come up with ways to fix these problems that occurred once and for all,” he said. “Measure V was a start, but it’s not the end.”
Voters in 2014 overwhelmingly passed Measure V, or the Orange County Great Park Fiscal Transparency and Reforms Act, tightening oversight of the project.
Developer FivePoint Communities, also known as Heritage Fields, is building out the next phase of the park, 688 acres that are slated to encompass sports complex, a golf course, the Upper Bee Canyon and a wooded nature area.
In exchange, FivePoint was granted the OK to build roughly twice the number of homes near the park as previously approved.
Next, the council has discussed building a library, museums, a lake and an amphitheater.
A “transparent, comprehensive multi-year plan taking the Great Park to completion needs to be developed,” the grand jury report concludes.
The city is preparing a formal response to the findings, Irvine spokesman Thomas Macduff said.
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