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In 2002, Orange County voters approved the building of a grand metropolitan park consisting of approximately 1300 acres of land, formerly occupied by a Marine base. A lovely idea, right? Ought to be a gorgeous place for families and friends to spend a day, right? It’s 2013 now so the park should be a shining light beaming out of the county, right?
The answers to those questions are ‘right!’, ‘right!’ and ‘slow down… maybe you weren’t aware the Irvine City Council is involved in this.’
Yes, eleven years later, over 80% of the abandoned Marine base still very much resembles an abandoned Marine base. Like me, you may be asking, “How difficult is it to build a few sidewalks, restrooms and plant some grass?” Very difficult indeed when you’re dealing with the uncanny ineptitude and indifference of the city of Irvine’s management. Thus far, over $200 million has been spent on park construction. This works out to about $1 million spent per developed acre. With that kind of spending you could have a 200-acre park crowded with brand-new Ferraris, but as far as I know that’s not the case. As you might expect, much of this money went to consultants (people who talk rather than do), PR firms (to fulfill that pressing need to increase awareness of what a ‘park’ is, I suppose), and a ‘development’ agency which obviously didn’t live up to its name, though it certainly cashed all those monthly checks it received.
A possible silver lining has appeared around this cloud of inertia and waste – Five Point Communities, the developer of nearby homes, offered to build up approximately 600 acres of parkland. Their proposal included a total of $641 million of their money to improve and maintain parkland over the next 30 years. They would build an Olympic-style sports village, a 178-acre wildlife corridor, soccer fields, tennis courts, and venues for baseball, softball and volleyball. The city, having spent nothing on any of that, would still get to keep revenues from those venues. In exchange, FivePoint Communities would get to use a portion of the land for profit, building restaurants, retail shops, bars and possibly a hotel… seems like a fair trade-off in order to turn this abandoned base into something useful and enjoyable to the community, right? So what became of this proposal once it got to the City Council?
You guessed – nothing. All five council members expressed (or maybe feigned?) interest in the proposal, but ultimately seemed to show disdain for the idea that FivePoint themselves have a say in how their own money is spent. The Council actually seemed offended that FivePoint’s wasn’t offering them a huge check to do with as they pleased (because no one spends more wisely than the City Council, right?) All council members appear to be apprehensive of making any decisions involving the Great Park – aren’t they desperate enough, why are they hesitating, what is your plan … I’m sorry, I don’t recall hearing what YOUR plan was? I can only assume it involves spending another eleven years to develop another eighteen-or-so percent of the park for another enormous amount of money…. who in the world keeps voting for these same people year after year?
Broadcom and its massive workforce may possibly be peeking over that fence line, waiting to land on a new corporate campus, possibly to make the Great Park its new home… or will they instead wind up in Tustin’s wide open arms? If the Council continues to drag their feet there will be no companies developing that land and offering new jobs, along with the revenue generated by those jobs and the arrival of new homes into a burgeoning City.
An organization, called “Build the Great Park Now,” has taken up the cause of FivePoint Communities. Led by Guy Lemmon, they’re a group of non-affiliated citizens tired of the City Council’s useless posturing. They hope to convince council members to actually allow something to get done about the-still largely Imaginary Park. Of FivePoint’s various proposals to develop the land using NO taxpayer funds, Lemmon says Santa Claus just dropped a huge package on the front door and said here, open it. Unfortunately, if anyone has a big enough ego to turn away Santa Claus, it’s this City Council.