Saturday, August 9, 2014

(Orange County) Commentary: Irvine can’t be trusted with Great Park

August 8, 2014
Daily Pilot
By Thomas J. Peterson

South Orange County residents have witnessed probably the largest bait-and-switch of their lifetimes.
Clever ballot maneuvering sold the dream of a magnificent park to Orange County residents in 2001. Voters only needed to abandon plans to convert El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (already an airport) into a 4,300-acre regional airport with plenty of buffer zones and protected areas.
And all they had to do was look at those beautiful drawings and trust the city of Irvine to make a park. It would even be a Great Park, which is a term provided by a political consultant.
Next, like door-to-door salesmen selling something they knew could never work, the people pushing for the park told us it would pay for itself. After all, what could go wrong?
Then Irvine annexed the property (and the planning rights). In that moment, the interests of Orange County went out the window in favor of an Irvine-controlled enterprise that promotes land development.
The early plans that showed so much open space in the Great Park were humorous. Open space was defined, in some areas, as buildings two stories or lower in height.
Irvine, acting in some capacity of trust for the people of Orange County, has spent more than a decade and $200 million in revenue generated by the park property trying to convert a flat, open space into a park, something one could assume could be done for a more reasonable $50 million or even $100 million.
A judge is set to rule soon on the release of $292 million in redevelopment funds to the city. Add this to the $200 million already spent, and now we are talking about half a billion — with a "b" — entrusted to Irvine. Irvine has been spending money on the Great Park like it is going out of style. Even with this new money, the city may need to take in ironing to ever get this thing built.
At least two Orange County Grand Jury reports, several forensic audits and numerous consultants' reports have yielded no new outcome. The Great Park is still predominantly a flat, open space with a small demonstration park and thousands of houses being built where a park was once promised.
The 2006 grand jury report is titled "The Orange County Great Park: Whose Park Is It?" Eight years later, we know one thing: It is not Orange County's Great Park.
It's time for Orange County to follow the recommendation of the grand jury: Either an elected board should be chosen from across the county to take over development of the 1,300-acre park or the county should sue to get the property back from Irvine.
Until the people of Orange County do something about the Great Park, we will continue to get more of what we have already gotten. Tell me what that is again?
THOMAS J. PETERSON lives in Newport Beach.

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