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Great Park Eyes Revamped Future

UPDATE: After Irvine's new council majority fires the park's million-dollar PR firm and shrinks the park board, new leaders are chosen.

Less than two days after dumping the Orange County Great Park's no-bid lobbying and public relations contracts, Irvine's new City Council majority has also revamped leadership of the park.

On Thursday, Councilwoman Beth Krom was replaced as chairwoman of the Great Park's board by Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lalloway. And Councilwoman Christina Shea took over as board vice chair. (The park board now consists entirely of Irvine City Council members.)

Earlier this week, at a long, contentious City Council meeting that lasted until the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Mayor Steven S. Choi, Lalloway and Shea voted to fire the the park's million-dollar-a-year public relations agency, Forde & Mollrich, and its lobbyist, Townsend Public Affairs. The council also voted to shrink the park board from nine members to five. Krom and Councilman Larry Agran voted against those moves.

The council also voted unanimously to conduct a financial audit of the Great Park, which has spent $220 million but has little to show for it beyond a merry-go-round and multimillion-dollar orange balloon.

Krom said she believes the new council majority wants the Great Park to fail and was motivated by politics. But Lalloway said the Great Park has not progressed as much as it should have.

"I don't believe the new council wants to see us succeed with the Solar Decathlon or the Great Park," Krom said.

The Solar Decathlon will be held at the Great Park from Oct. 3-13, involving teams of college students from around the world who will design and build solar-powered houses. It is the first time the event is being held outside Washington D.C.

Krom disagreed that Great Park officials have not done much to build the park itself. She cited regular events at the park, such as art exhibitions and other activities.

When the city took over the property, officials envisioned it one day becoming a recreational area to rival Central Park in Manhattan. Krom said that project took many years to realize as well.

"I think that sadly there's a narrative that has taken hold that is not accurate," Krom said. "It is what people choose to believe that nothing has been done and that simply is not the case. ... These types of projects take a long time to develop."

Krom said she thought the Solar Decathlon could bring millions of dollars in revenue to the city, but that is all in jeopardy now without a public relations firm.

Krom added that the park's lobbyist was working with lawmakers in Sacramento to devise an alternative to financing the park now that city officials are barred from using redevelopment agency funding.

"I feel now that we have bullies running the City Council," Krom said.

Lalloway rejected Krom's claim that he wants the park to fail.

"That's a fairly obnoxious statement," Lalloway said. "I never wanted it to do anything but get built."

He said Krom and other Great Park supporters have been "more interested in programming and paying their political friends off than getting it built. They've had 12 years of opportunities. Let someone else have the chance to build a park."

Lalloway said more should be shown after 12 years and $220 million spent on the park. He said he would move to have city officials come up with a five-year business plan for the park, something he proposed a year ago, but the motion failed on a 3-2 vote.

To read more about the park's controversial past, click here or here.

-- City News Service

Jim Gardner January 10, 2013 at 04:54 PM
Kudos to the Irvine City Council for making this long overdue move. The Great Park will be a great addition for Southern California, but to date they have been moving so slowly. Let's hope the new council stays on top of it this time and we can see some real progress. That being said, it's clear that a fully functioning Great Park will bring more traffic to Lake Forest as people from Mission Viejo and RSM go through our city on their way to the Great Park, trying to avoid the 5 freeway. So let's do some forward planning to get ready for this new traffic, which, unfortunately, is going to go through the part of the city that already is looking at some 4,000 new homes.
JustUs January 10, 2013 at 06:42 PM
Yes, Jim. But all the payoffs have already gone out to the Council's sugar daddies that the taxpayers will never retrieve. The Great Park was used as a cover to make a lot of unscrupulous individual A LOT of money with barely any progress being made to provide the citizens with a park. IMO it was highway robbery. People should be held accountable by our justice system, but of course none of them will be. Now that some sunlight has hit the REAL problem Irvine is scrambling for a solution because they KNOW that certain people on the Board of Supervisors has threatened to take the management of the Great Park away from Irvine and transferring that management to the County. So now they are falling all over themselves to fix the problem. I say 'too little too late'. Irvine does not DESERVE to manage the Great Park construction. They have not EARNED it. Take it away from them, I say! Yes, there are going to be some unintended consequences for Lake Forest upon the completion (if that ever happens) of the Great Park. But I do not expect the Council to act in time. Rarely do they. They only react to problems without doing anything to prevent them. The entire council leaned into a left hook when they approved the sex offender park ban. Then they have to waste time to weasel their way out of it after they understood the error of their ways. And the 2 new councilmen still didn't get it. They wanted to lean into the left hook once again. Go figure!
Robzillaa January 11, 2013 at 06:52 PM
Wow.. Krom mentioned an art exhibit and some other activities..I live in Lake Forest, a few minutes from the shabby, uhh, err, ahh, not so great park. They host these activies on a strip of grass, or dirt lots. Hardly any progress has been made on actually BUILDING a park for all people. Instead the boondoggle has made the planners, engineers and lawyers rich. Sure, my city, Lake Forest will see increased traffic when and if it gets built. Thats a small price to pay if you are close to a great park, just like New Yorkers pay for central park views and apts. I still believe in building this park, its our future. I also believe in redevelopment in the area as housing will most definitely turn around in the future. Lets get more of those funds, go after those who have wasted so much time and money and quit squabbling over the little things. The more we change and shrink the park, the more money the planners will charge for these changes.
Dennis Fletcher January 11, 2013 at 09:40 PM
I totally agree with Gardner that the Great Park has tremedous potential benefit for not only Lake Forest but all OC residents....and many will come from LA as well, as they do at Central Park in Manhattan. A 5-year financial plan that is committed to, has goals that are easily measurable and is transparent (e.g., up on the Internet with planned and actual expenditures) would go a long way to reducing waste, fraud and delays (goals should include target dates for achieving the measurable results). If the City of Irvine, or whoever ends up running the project, would run it like a standard large M&A project (e.g., the classic Arco merger of 1970), the structure for accountability and transparency would be in place.

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