The Great Park: Begging for Stimulus Dollars or Getting Our Fair Share

Leave it to the Register’s Steven Greenhut to interpret a column by Irvine council member Larry Agran as “begging for tax dollars” for the Great Park.  Steve took exception to a column Agran wrote in the Daily Pilot.  Steve wrote:

“As the Times reported in 2002, Irvine’s then-Mayor Larry Agran, who failed in his efforts to get $120 million in money from a statewide ballot initiative, said “he is confident that fees from developers permitted to build on 15 percent of the 4,700-acre base will pay for the whole project. He insists he will keep his vow not to raise taxes for the park.”

Last week, however, Mr. Agran, now Irvine mayor pro tem and chairman of the Orange County Great Park Corporation, argued in a column for the Daily Pilot that “President Obama’s visit to Southern California was an excellent opportunity for city leaders to personally plead their case for funding of community and recreational facilities, which desperately need a portion of the stimulus dollars. … [W]here is the funding for our metropolitan parks? In Orange County, we are beginning development of the Orange County Great Park.” He begged for stimulus dollars for every sort of Great Park project, ranging from “green” projects to transportation projects to renewable energy projects on the large, mostly vacant and basically dilapidated site of the old base.”

First off, Councilman Agran has not raised taxes to pay for the park.  What Steve must have missed was a much longer version of this same Daily Pilot column that ran in the LA Times.

Here’s an excerpt of what Agran wrote:

“…one crucial piece of our nation’s green infrastructure is largely overlooked in the stimulus plan: metropolitan parks. More than half a billion dollars of stimulus funds are designated for improvements to our national parks, and that is wonderful. But there is no money specifically designated for our metropolitan parks — an oversight that must be corrected.

To fully understand the potential economic impact the Great Park holds for Orange County and Southern California, Economic Research Associates conducted an analysis of the public and private development activity in and around the park for the next 12 years.

The study reports that this year alone, planning, construction and other activity associated with building the Great Park could result in 6,317 jobs in Southern California, increasing to 31,532 jobs in 2020. Much of the preliminary work could be started in the next several months.

These projects include a “solar farm” providing renewable energy to the park and surrounding communities, a natural water treatment system with regional benefits for water quality, and a multi-modal transit system using alternative-fuel vehicles within the park and connecting to Amtrak and Metrolink service at the Irvine Transportation Center.

I am confident that many of the Great Park’s “green projects” will end up qualifying for federal stimulus dollars in the areas of transit, transportation, renewable energy production and water-quality improvement. National, state and local government officials throughout the United States should take a close look at metropolitan parks as a logical place to invest federal stimulus dollars.

This strategy helped lead our nation’s recovery during the Depression and left an impressive legacy of magnificent public spaces for tens of millions of Americans to enjoy. And it can again.”

I consider myself pretty good at reading comprehension, but suggesting elements of the Great Park could qualify for stimulus funding is a far way off from “begging for dollars.”  But Steve certainly suggests that taxes were being increased to help funding, when this simply isn’t true.  These harsh words about are is consistent with the Register’s “we hate Larry Agran” mantra.  Did everyone like Frank Mickadeit’s lame Great Pork drawing with multiple digs at Agran and Beth Krom?  It makes me long for the talent and wit of Mike Shelton (yes, that was sarcasm).

What Steve either won’t acknowledge or forgot is that Agran saying parks are not properly funded was the very idea advocated by State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore and State Senator John Campbell when they tried to argue for preserving the El Morro cottages for residents rather than have the state of California pay more to maintain a new park they determined the state couldn’t afford. 

From the story in CalCoastNews.com whcih excerpted a story by Jean Pasco of the LA Times in 2005:

DeVore said the Department of Parks and Recreation was facing a $900-million maintenance backlog and should be more realistic about what it can do. The freshman assemblyman was criticized by opponents for accepting $66,000 in campaign donations and loans from mobile home park residents, as well as from a businessman who holds the trailer park lease and from the businessman’s relatives.

And there’s this story in the Register from 2005 with these key paragraphs.

“DeVore said the state has a backlog of park maintenance projects exceeding $400 million. “Does it make sense to add capacity when we can’t afford to maintain what we have today?” he asked. ”

It hasn’t helped that DeVore’s campaign-finance reports show more than $74,000 in loans and donations from residents and managers of the mobile home park.

Most of that money came from the family of El Morro Village Inc. shareholder Roberto Brutocao, who is DeVore’s finance chairman.

DeVore spent $515,420 in the election.

“It doesn’t make too much sense what he is proposing unless you want to give special favors to someone,” said Fern Pirkle, president of Friends of the Newport Coast. “It just reveals who he is really working for. He is not working for the benefit of all the taxpayers.”

Should government help fund park development.  Yes.  Especially when it leaves behind a lasting use for the public like all those bridges I used to drive on back in Massachusetts that were built during the New Deal.

  1 comment for “The Great Park: Begging for Stimulus Dollars or Getting Our Fair Share

  1. Michael Seaman
    March 31, 2009 at 10:08 am

    I certainly agree that local parks are part of our infrastructure. Why parks should be off-limits for stimulus money is beyond me.

    At least local parks under the direct control of cities and counties can be funded via block grants to cities and counties. They can employ people to fix park pathways, picnic ares, community centers, etc.

    But it is a mystery why the same logic cannot be applied to local parks not under the control of cities and counties, i.e. regional park districts and local park districts. If stimulus funds were to be made available to those independent park districts (which are units of local government, BTW) the money would be more likely to turn into a shovel-ready job quickly, because independent local districts aren’t burdened with a tedious procurement bureaucracy like counties and big cities have.

    These same issues apply to other special districts, not just park districts. Sadly, most policy makers only mean “cities and counties” when they say the words “local government”. But the fabric of local government is much more diverse. Here in California we have 58 counties, around 480 cities, about 1100 school districts and something like 3000 independent special districts. (There are maybe another 4000 dependent special districts as well. The latter are subordinate units of county government.)

    What difference does it make if an unemployed person gets a job because stimulus money flowed thru government-agency “x” instead of government-agency “y”? A job is a job, right? If there is a construction company out there who needs a contract to set forms and pour concrete, that company wants to win the bid sooner, not later. That can happen if stimulus money flows through a local special district. Boom…boat ramps at a harbor district, restored pathways in a park district, energy-efficient lighting at a sanitation district, replacement valves at a water district, etc. There are plenty of shovel-ready, quick-to-bid projects among the 3000 or so units of local government that are independent special districts. Including local park districts.

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