While Irvine Republicans have been fast to use the costs of developing the Great Park and complain about the slow pace of park development, the OC Register has opened up their editorial pages for some rare equal time when it comes to progressive elected officials,
Larry Agran and Beth Krom has columns that tackle different aspects of the Great Park with Agran’s column focusing on the extensive audits that are done annually and other comprehensive audits done since the Park was formed and Krom’s column focusing on the time it takes for other metropolitian parks to develop. Now certain elected and appointed officials have suggested Agran not “shred any documents” should note neither Agran or Krom are against the forensic audit; both voted with the new Republican majority for it. And as the Park was run with a CEO and a nine-member board, I sincerely doubt a forensic audit is going to uncover any major financial hiccups — the GPC’s CEO would be the person most responsible for executing the policies of the GPB.
From Agran’s column:
As a council member who chaired the Great Park Corporation from 2004 to 2010, I know how valuable audits can be. They ensure accountability and the proper management of public funds.
That’s why, every year, the Great Park Corporation is included in the city of Irvine’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, and Great Park Corporation revenues and expenditures have been audited five times. Also, the Great Park Corporation has completed two major contract compliance audits.
All of these audits have confirmed that our Great Park Corporation staff and our city management staff have been doing an excellent job. We are getting what we paid for – on time, within budget, and with full accountability for every dollar spent.
Now, we are about to undertake a new, comprehensive audit. Here is the broad outline of what the auditor will be looking at:
On July 12, 2005 – after a 12-year struggle to defeat the county’s El Toro Airport plan – the city of Irvine and the Great Park Corporation finally took control of $650 million in assets. These assets included the following:
•1,347 acres of the former El Toro airbase property, with a conservative land value of $249 million;
•$201 million in developer-provided joint backbone infrastructure – the massive and costly underground pipes and utilities to serve both the Great Park and the homes and neighborhoods being built on the perimeter of the Great Park; and,
•$200 million in cash from the developer (Heritage Fields/FivePoint Communities), so we could actually begin designing and building the Great Park.
As a result of a number of smart deals we made with FivePoint Communities, Great Park assets have actually grown.
Public land at the Great Park now stands at 1,477 acres, an increase of 130 acres – for an estimated land value of at least $300 million.
FivePoint Communities is now required to complete all the backbone infrastructure for the Great Park, valued at about $300 million.
Meanwhile, cash in the bank as of Nov. 30, 2012 – after seven-and-a-half years and millions of dollars invested in designing, building and operating the Great Park – stands at $52 million.
It is these expenditures – for design, construction, and operations – that will be audited yet again. How did we spend these dollars? Did we get what we paid for? According to city and Great Park management staff, $133 million has been invested so far in design and construction. We completed our award-winning Comprehensive Park Design in 2009 and 2010, and about $100 million has been committed to large-scale Phase I Western Sector development of the Great Park on more than 230 acres.
Krom’s column provides some historical analysis on the Great Park’s funding and points out the delays the prevented the private developer charged with certain infrastructure work from failing to adhere to their obligations.
From Krom’s column:
People forget that when Measure W passed in 2002, there was land for a park but no money to build it. When the Department of Navy chose to sell the air station, that changed. Selling the base when residential land values were about $4 million an acre worked out well for the federal government which received $649.5 million from Lennar Corporation, the successful bidder on the property.
The developer was also required to provide $200 million in developer fees to support park planning efforts and $201 million for backbone infrastructure.
Unfortunately, when the bottom dropped out of the residential housing market, the private developer could not develop. Without development, anticipated revenues were not generated. When the state Legislature did away with redevelopment agencies, more than $1 billion in future funding to support park development was lost.
Understanding the history of the Orange County Great Park project is important. Planning for the first great metropolitan park of the 21st Century could have been conducted in a vacuum, but it wasn’t.
Creating grand public spaces takes time. People who ask “where’s the park?” should note that planning for Central Park in New York was started about the time of the Civil War, and the last major features were built in the 1930s. Politics threatened to compromise that project more than once. Like all grand public projects, there were conflicts between the visionaries and those who engaged in profiteering and political gamesmanship.
When I moved to Irvine 15 years ago, my neighbors commented to me no matter what price you’re able to get, this is Irvine and someone always knows someone who can do the job cheaper. The new council majority is mobving ahead with a forensic audit that carries a caveat that they can instruct the auditor on what areas of the Great Park Budget to focus on and which ones to ignore (translation: anything they voted for will be overlooked).
When the audit comes back, expect any overpayment, no matter how small, to be blown out of proportion by the Irvine Republicans. The Great Park has already had frequent audits, and everything has been an open book. And when the audit comes back, it would be delightful if the auditor includes the roll call vote for each project and each campaign. We’ll note Irvine just won an award for being the third pest managed city in America by 24/7 Wall Street, the online financial news and opinion media group. And the current edition of the Orange County Business Journal cites Irvine’s growing industrial sector added more than 1,300 jobs last year for the 3.3 percent increase making Irvine #28 in the nation according to Manufacturer’s News. Irvine is ahead of Detroit and Pittsburgh when it comes to industrial jobs. And while OCBJ quotes Mayor Steven Choi, its the economic development policies of the city’s former Progressive Majority for the solid local economy and it’s well run city staff.
The new Republican majority has a high bar to leap, and their approach is to be pennywise and pound foolish.
I’m glad both Agran and Krom are speaking out with facts about the Great Park. And glad that our local media, which has a definite right wing bias,