In thinking about the future of Irvine’s Great Park, we’re recalling the shocking numbers that Irvine Councilman Jeff Lalloway spoke of during the City Council
debate earlier this week — the City has only $20-30 million left from about $200+ million they received from the sale of portions of the property surrounding the former air base to Lennar Corp. (the current developer, FivePoint Communities, is run by well-respected former Lennar exec, Emile Haddad).
The Register, Voice of OC, LA Times and others have written volumes on the unfortunate history of the Great Park, the malfeasance of Larry Agran and Beth Krom (now the City Council and Park Board minority), and the incredible waste of this money. As we quoted yesterday from Frank Mikadeit’s OCR column:
They burned through money. An L.A. Times analysis calculated that of the more than $200 million spent on the park, only about $38 million can be traced to in-the-ground improvements. In contrast, the city and park has paid F&M [Forde & Mollrich], $19.8 million over the past 14 years, an amount Lalloway called “grossly absurd.”
Big changes for the Park can be anticipated. The Register reported today that Irvine Councilmember Lalloway was elected to replace Krom as Chairman. Christina Shea replaces no longer-outside Director Walkie Ray as Vice Chair. Both are competent, financially-savvy choices. Mayor Steven Choi was also quoted: “Our vision to create the Great Park doesn’t change”.
It’s been about the money all along, of course, and we don’t see any way at all that Irvine can work their way out of this and build their 1,347 acre Park, especially with Agran and Krom now in adversarial positions and certainly scheming and raising money to get their majority back in 2014. Per the LA Times in 2008, Ken Smith’s grand plan (Smith charged $10k/month) was said to cost as much as $1.6 billion to finish the Park (1/3rd higher than its original outlandish estimate). “Grandiose” is too weak a word to describe Irvine’s and Smith’s ambitions.
We can’t see that the 200 acres of finished Great Park (15% of its area) would come close to generating the revenue from the entertainment events that Mayor Choi was chastising the new minority for Tuesday last. The developer’s well is probably dry (and certainly Haddad isn’t going to trust anything further he’ll hear re. finishing the debacle, and he should seriously doubt its actual value to future FivePoint homeowners). We seriously doubt that Irvine taxpayers will pony up any cash either. And for all the years that Larry and Beth spent flipping off the Orange County Board of Supervisors (recall they denied Bill Campbell, their District Supervisor at the time, a Park Board seat. and Agran trashed them again Tuesday night), there won’t be any funds found there either, despite Supervisor Spitzer’s continued support for the Park (and Spitzer will be gone in two years if he wins his expected campaign for OC District Attorney). Institutional memory on the Board might still be strong as well — ten years ago, the BOS majority wanted El Toro remade into a full-scale international commercial airport.
Spitzer boasts he long ago schemed with Supervisor Cynthia Coad to transfer control of the Park from the County to the city of Irvine. In the process, he denied its use to a few million Orange County citizens who ALSO had an ownership stake in what was originally a Federal property owned by ALL. Those citizens — call them the west and north County voters who might have cared less about an over-designed, ludicrously expensive, too far away park they had no use for — perhaps would have benefited more from a job, or a cheaper airline fare than what they were paying at John Wayne. Or perhaps they didn’t want to trek up to Ontario Airport or LAX for a cheaper, more suitable flight from a major or international airline. In fact, the grandest benefactor from an El Toro commercial airport would have been the Orange County tourist industry — we believe Disney might almost kill for an international airport, and with regular non-stop flights to and from the US east coast. A lot of OC taxpayers and businesses got hosed by Measure W and Spitzer’s deal. The lost opportunities for new businesses and revenue if the airport had been reused is incalculable.
Irvine might do well to sit on that $20 million Mr. Lalloway was speaking of as we believe there’s more than just us at the OCP thinking that what might have been still OUGHT TO BE. It’s not realistic or within their financial capacity that Irvine will ever finish this project. It’s tainted and stinks of corruption. It shames us all. In a word, they’ve FAILED. It’s all over — done — finito. No dough, no Park. Forde and Smith and Townsend took it.
The alternative is simple — the land can’t lay fallow, it’s simply too valuable. The arguments FOR an airport from over ten years ago are still valid. It would create an enormous cash inflow into Orange County. It would be an enormous generator of taxes and fees. It would create hundreds, if not thousands of jobs. It would attract business to the area. We understand now that it would not create any more traffic than the later housing development plans that were cooked up for the Park surrounds. Any untruthful arguments like Len Krasner used to cook up on his El Toro blog about airplanes running into mountains would still be lies (recall that Nixon flew Air Force One into El Toro, and military transports used it for years).
So, it’s back to Square One. El Toro needs to be the airport it always was. Who’s in?