The recent news that the remodeling of a community center at Northwood Community Park is now 45% over budget is not surprising at all. It’s yet another reminder of the dire fiscal condition that we are in as a city, as well as a big litmus test on whether or not our newly elected Republican majority is capable of handling such projects.
Irvine’s Gang of Three (Steven Choi, Jeff Lalloway and Christina Shea) ran on a message of reform. Throughout the entire election cycle, from the debates to the direct mail campaigns, their messaging was centered on the need to clean things up fiscally in the City of Irvine. This example of a grossly over-budget community center is a perfect opportunity for these three to step up and demand that fiscal responsibility and sound decision return to Irvine politics. If these three politicians are committed to reform, why are City Manager Sean Joyce and Great Park CEO Mike Ellzey still employed? Where does the buck stop in Irvine, anyway?
The big message Irvine voters sent in November was that we want accountability restored. Five months into the new regime, it’s time for the new Council majority to stop grandstanding, step up and SHOW that accountability. This community center is a massive project that should be receiving maximum oversight throughout the entire process, yet for some reason this oversight is sorely lacking. And not by a small amount, but to an extent that will literally cost the city from a quarter of a million possibly half a million dollars.
Budgets are tight, everywhere. The days of bountiful government surpluses are over. Every American is feeling the pain in their personal budgets. With taxes and fees rising in many areas including the Great Park, it’s essential that government do everything in their power to deliver projects on time and at budget.
The most damning part of the Community Center fiasco is the fact that city staff acknowledged that council members were given misinformation regarding the cost of the project. For this very reason, the City Council is absolutely right in tabling the request for the additional money. In predictable fashion it was the classic 3-2 split in the matter of investigating the mis-management.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the entire process is the fact that City Manager Sean Joyce admitted that city officials have little to NO EXPERIENCE with complicated remodeling jobs, and that, while the initial budget for the construction contract was for $3.2 million, the council approved $4 million in renovations on Nov. 22, 2011, while today it is up to a requested 5.8 million dollars. For that reason alone an investigation is warranted, not to mention for the lack of communication and outright misinformation given the elected officials that are overseeing the project.
It’s time the City Council realize that they were working with taxpayer money, and there is NOT a bottomless trough of it. Here’s hoping that Gang of Three stays true to their election promises and ensures this project is finished responsibly, and that subsequent projects receive the proper oversight with NO Cost Overruns.