Irvine Council Majority Pricks the Great Park’s Balloon

balloon bursting over Great Park

This didn’t just happen on its own — look for evidence of pricks.

One’s eyebrows must generally raise when a City Council convenes a non-actually-urgent meeting, announced only the previous Friday, on a sensitive political issue for some time like, oh, 2:00 on a Monday afternoon.  Admittedly, it’s better than at 2:00 a.m. — but for many interested Council watchers, it might as well be in the middle of the night.

So when Irvine’s City Council — in its alternate incarnation as the Board of Directors of the Great Park, but let’s call it what it is — met yesterday at that time for a Star Chamber proceeding on the fate of the Great Park — and did I mention that no agenda was offered publicly until the previous Friday? — members of the community who nevertheless cleared their schedules to attend expected to be disappointed.  In that expectation, at least, they were not disappointed.

Orange Juice Blog did not have its own correspondent on the scene, but was able to piece together much of what happened from secondary reports (largely through the reliable sources on Facebook News Network.)  We derived several conclusions from our reading.

  • Yes, the new Council majority is indeed trying to screw up the Solar Decathlon, the “put the Great Park on the map” event bid upon and won by the former Council majority.  My understanding is that part of the bid to the Department of Energy was that attendance at the prestigious event was to be free.  The simple and gentle way that the Council majority wants to screw it up?  Charge for admission.  (Whether Irvine loses the event altogether at this late day, is not clear.  What it surely will lose is the chance at big crowds.)
  • No free balloon rides anymore.  No free carousel rides for the kiddies.  (But come enjoy the Great Park!)  And if park attendance drops — well, that sort of thing can’t be foreseen (although Agran and Krom foresaw it right then.
  • No New Year’s Eve celebration anymore.
  • “All your budget belong to us.”  See discussion of The Great Park Robbery below.
  • When Jeffrey Lalloway drinks water while “Mayor” Steven Choi is speaking, Choi makes a gurgling sound.  This may not prove much, though, as whenever Choi is speaking, he makes a gurgling sound.

The intention: to impress upon the public that previous terrible mismanagement leaves the Great Park without the resources to host the Solar Decathlon without desperate measures — and, informed observers suggest, to set the stage for selling off parts of the park to raise money for hosting the Solar Decathlon, because the Council Majority wants to ensure that when the public hears the words “Solar Decathlon” they will associate it with failure.

And the Solar Decathlon may not just fail by itself, you know!  It may need a push.  So — they’re pushing.

(Note: if you check out that Register article linked above, you’ll see lovingly detailed how much the Great Park loses on balloon rides and New Year’s Eve — and at $10, we’re told the balloon rides will still be cheaper than the $20 at the San Diego Zoo, as if the comparison between a long-established institution and a just-developing brand is appropriate — as it stands.  Wow — the Register doesn’t understand the idea of marketing?  Tell me, how much is Anaheim going to make on the $158 million “Gardenwalk Giveaway” to a developer’s which I believe the Register favors?  I calculate it at … negative $158 million!  The argument — ludicrous in Anaheim’s case, not so ludicrous in the case of the Great Park — is that spending money up front leads to a big payoff down the line.  Is anyone deeply worried about the “profit margin” of Manhattan’s Central Park — or do residents there appreciate its recreational and tourism value?  Under the Irvine City Council, Central Park would be known as “Sixth and Seventh Avenues above Midtown.”)

A possibly unknowing OJB correspondent reported that the meeting lasted over 3 1/2 hrs, ending just in time for people returning from a traditional work day to come in at the end and wave goodbye to the Great Park.  “Mayor” Lalloway (with Shea twice piping up and chiming in) kept hounding that the park had started with $220 million fund; and that now, after much squandering of funds under and by the “previous” administration over the years, a mere $20 million remains in the Park coffers, resulting in the need for the city to stop giving away freebies like free rides on what is, let us recall, a donated hot air balloon.

Larry Agran and Beth Krom, back in the opposition, were ferociously conducting the public education on the Great Park that had been badly needed — like, oh, before last November’s election.  Better late than never — and better ferocious than not.  Agran, for example, reminded the majority that the “park” part of the park site has increased in size by 130 additional acres since its inception – acres that are worth quite a bit of money.  My sense is that this was met with the attitude that something isn’t actually worth money until you are prepared to sell it.

Here’s The Great Park Robbery headline, though: the Council is recommending that “Recommend that the City Council authorize the CEO to enter into an agreement to transfer the Phase 2 grant funds in the amount of $625,000 from the O.C. Great Park Corporation to the City of Irvine for use in accordance with the grant agreement.”

Now look, I don’t particularly like to refer people to Scott Moxley’s writings on Irvine in the Weekly, but I have to do it now.  Go back and read his articles from last November and ask yourself this: are the concerns that he raises about possible self-dealing and corruption either intensified or alleviated by the City’s saying “uh, give us all that money, yes, right into this bag — no sequential bills, please — and we’ll take care of everything from here on out”?  Yes, they are intensified, worsened, and embaddened.

But, let’s be fair — what can one do?  Ever since the vaunted forensic audit came back with its promised damning report on mismanagement and corruption, the city has no choice but to — what’s that? There hasn’t actually been a forensic audit yet?  Uh, well then, that’s puzzling.  Why is this meeting being held now, then, rather than, you know, after the forensic audit determines whether there were problems?  We may surmise that there are two reasons:

(1) The Council Majority has finally figured out that the forensic audit is likely to show that Great Park hasn’t been mismanaged, but has proceeded more slowly than expected because of a general economic collapse, a specific housing collapse centered in Irvine, and factors such as the slow pace of cleaning up all of the toxic waste in certain parts of the park before sending the kids out to play there; and

(2) The Solar Decathlon is coming — the prestigious event that helps to justify that money spent on PR — and if the Council doesn’t screw it up now then it might not get screwed up in time!  All that good international publicity and commerce-attracting display of our burgeoning  regional solar power industry — solar power generally being a sore spot for Republicans, lacking even a hint of fossil fuel — that could be ruinous for their plans to help cronies puhhhhh-rofit from the purchasing pieces of the Park!

(Don’t worry, I’m sure that Inspector Moxley will be covering that story of actual enriching of Council cronies just as soon as its too late to do anything about it — except maybe another forensic audit, which supporters of the current Council majority will assert is a waste of the taxpayers’ money.)

The nice part of the story is that, despite the Council majority trying its damnedest not to alert the public in advance to such an inconveniently timed meeting, people roused themselves and showed up anyway.  (No, this does not “make it OK.”  It just means that the Council fired at the body politic and missed.)  Our unwitting correspondents report that an overwhelming majority of audience was cheering on Agran and Krom’s defense of the Park (and especially of the Solar Decathlon that is supposed to “put it on the map.”  When the audience reacted that way, “Mayor” Choi asked the audience where the fans of the Council majority were — and was met by signs that they didn’t exist.

Apparently, Choi then said that his supporters were obviously not at the council meeting because they were out working at their jobs.  Ya think?  Well, then — what sort of fool would schedule a Council meeting in the middle of a Monday afternoon with barely one business day’s notice, “Mayor” Choi?  Gurgle, gurgle.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)