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.
-- City News Service