Choi’s Folly: How to Pay for The Great Park Library

Irvine Mayor Steven Choi’s central vision for Irvine’s Great Park includes the construction of a 200,000 square foot central library, and the library was a central theme in his State of the City address in late February.  What’s missing from this vision — any detailed plan for paying for this structure. Choi told the Register it might cost $100 million; others suggest a library of this size and scope is closer to $200 million. And Choi plans to pay for it without using tax dollars.

So just how is this library going to be built?

We sent a public records request to the City asking for any and all emails, memos, minutes of any meeting that details the development, construction and financing of this enormous library a couple of weeks ago; the city contact us saying they needed more time. Which means either there are so many records, the city needs more time, or their isn’t much and they need more time to find it.

Choi wrote a glowing piece about the Library in the Register (which seldom presented the same such platform for the three previous mayors).  Choi wrote:

Let me tell you my vision to truly transform more than 1,300 acres into a Great Park that we can all admire. And let me do so through my explanation of what a great Metropolitan Central Library would mean to so many, at such a place.

A library should be the heart of a city. It is where the best and the brightest, of all ages, gather to learn, to imagine and to teach. See the soccer player coming from the nearby playing fields to do his homework, or the high school student looking for the perfect study area, or the professional who has the next big business idea. It is a place that you never forget, so it becomes a place that you always return to.

When you walk into a library that serves as the heart of a city, you feel the energy beneath your feet and the wings of opportunity. You know that the place you have come to is the place you were meant to be.

However, a library that is the heart of a city needs to be in a place that is bigger than any one piece – bigger than a library, bigger than athletic fields and arts facilities and bike trails and meeting places. A library needs to be in a place that is truly home to everyone.

So, the library that I envision at the Orange County Great Park will be the kind of place that explains not only who we are as a community, but what we can become. My vision requires only new priorities, not new taxes. The Great Park that I know is ready for us to build together … and enjoy forever … will be like the books you find in this library.

Choi admits to the Register he’s not sure how much it would cost. But he did go on a fact finding mission to four such libraries.  As far as the how much it might cost, I guess he forgot to ask about those facts. From the story:

Irvine would fund it from excess property taxes that would have normally gone to the county library system, as well as community fundraising. Naming rights to the library itself could also be sold, Choi said.

He proposed creating what would be called the Irvine Library Foundation, which would augment any other funding efforts. Similarly, the Foundation for the Great Park (known as the Great Park Conservancy) aims to support the park’s development through fundraising.

A large portion of the funding would come from an agreement the city made with the county and its library system a year ago to cap Irvine’s annual property tax contribution. Any property tax growth above 2 percent – affected by new home sales, home values being reassessed, etc. – would stay with Irvine, Choi said. Once the library is built – several years, if that, from now – Choi said he envisions the county operating it though through a cooperative model.

He doesn’t know how much it will cost, speculating that it could cost $100 million, but says the foundation would be launched early in the process to get a jump on making the library happen. Choi said no Great Park funds would pay for the library because there aren’t enough funds there.

He and a few others – an architect, a Great Park staff member and a library consultant group – went on a fact-finding mission last year to tour several Southern California libraries. “We have a pretty good idea what we’d like to do,” he said in a phone interview a day after delivering his State of the City address.

So if the library’s construction is estimated at $100 million, conservatively, what about the stuff that goes inside the library? Books, tables, chairs, shelves, lights, computers, audio/video equipment, function rooms and furniture, copy machines, books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, and staff to run the place.  No estimates at all on that. You think someone with a PhD in Library Science might actually have a clue on costs.  Dr. No becomes Dr. I-Don’t-Know.

An aside, I laughed out loud at his suggestion the professional goes to the library for his next big business idea.  Ha!  Never happens (but you will find them at Starbucks). The librarian would sush the “a-ha” moment.  And other reports suggested the library could have a Starbucks or a foodcourt.  Funny, most libraries forbid any sort of food and drink.  And we already have a place full of books and periodicals and a coffee shop in Irvine; it’s called Barnes & Noble.

If Choi’s plan to finance the library without new taxes is going to generate enough revenue to build a $100 million library and enough revenue to sustain it, keep it current, and staff it, then frankly the better idea is to expand the county library in Irvine to accommodate more people and provide more resources. How about a grant to the IUSD schools — elementary through high school — to expand library resources, add staff and expand a school libraries hours of operation so these school libraries become closer to how a college library functions. And with that much revenue for a library, the public employee pension crisis Council Jeff Lalloway keeps harping about (in his comparison of Irvine to Costa Mesa) would be totally resolved.

Is there a place for a library at the Great Park.  Sure.  There was a plan for a small one that focused on area history, the base’s history, our argicultural past, and other “local” topics. 

Until the Mayor delivers some actual detail about how much money this would cost, how it will be financed, and how it would be sustained over time, then his vision for a grand library at the Great Park is nothing more than folly.

  20 comments for “Choi’s Folly: How to Pay for The Great Park Library

  1. OC Observer
    March 20, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Libraries are dinosaurs. Unneeded buildings occupying property that’s better used for other purposes. The homeless can sleep elsewhere.

    In reading this, you’ve got more knowledge in front of you than could ever fit in Choi’s edifice.

    Another waste of money and time at the Great Park.

  2. Ryan Cantor
    March 21, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    “Funny, most libraries forbid any sort of food and drink.”

    Dan, I don’t think that’s true.

    Your characterization of a librarian who squashes creativity and entrepreneurial ideas the follows the quote above unjustly stereotypes the fine professionals we have running our libraries in this county.

    While it’s clear you like neither Mr. Choi nor his ideas, there’s no need to drag down your local library or the folks who work there.

    As a writer for a blog labeling itself as “liberal” it’s a shame that you’d advocate for a taxpayer to a big-box corporate bookstore rather than her free and public library.

    • March 22, 2013 at 9:33 am

      Try bringing your lunch to the library and let me know how that goes. Libraries do not quash creativity or entrepreneurial ideas; how did you read that into what I wrote? If you had read the post, I’m advocating for an expansion of county libraries serving Irvine and beefing up the libraries at IUSD schools which is perfectly aligned with liberal views.

  3. Ltpar
    March 21, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Ok Dan, you made your point on the Library. Larry Agran had his vision, a Great Park of “milk & honey” with the honey continuing to flow into the pockets of his cronies? Didn’t hear you whining too much about that vision, when it was happening? Steven Choi who has a background in Library Science, has a vision of a Library at the Great Park. While I don’t happen to agree with vision, I can only note that it does not seem to personally benefit Choi, as was the case of Larry Agran. I somehow, think with the full plate of priorities, limited resources the new Council has cleanig up the Agranista mess, the Library vision will quickly go on the back burner. Sorry Dan, but you will have to find another topic to whine about?

    • March 22, 2013 at 9:27 am

      a background in library science doesn’t include a background in building construction, finance, or operations. I’m guessing Choi would want this library named after him. And he could then line the pockets of deevloper friends to construct this Barnes & Noble on steroids.

  4. March 21, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    What has happened to the needs and wants of the community? Has anyone on the council asked the community, the folks, what they would like to see in the Great Park, (I do not think it was a great library).

    Originally, we had plans for a Central Park, Nature Preserve and multi-use development. The Great Park Plan focused on the 1,347 acres including a 2.5-mile canyon, a 26-acre lake, botanical gardens, a cultural terrace, lawns, performing arts venues, a sports park, and a wildlife corridor connecting the Cleveland National Forest to the Laguna Coast Wilderness.

    Unfortunately when all is said and done, Mr. Choi would rather focus on a Great Library, and since the Great Park is in financial distress.I imagine that the council will have to raise taxes or fees etc…than make wiser financial decisions about the Great Park. The days of politicians being public servants to the people and the community are long gone. Now all we have left is career politicians making decisions not for the good of local families, but for the benefits of their own personal gains.

    Can we focus on what was promised FIRST to the families of our great community.

  5. Ryan Cantor
    March 22, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Well Dan, perhaps you should stop by your local library and ask what their policy is before you start spouting off half truths. I had a cup of coffee in mine on Monday.

    “I laughed out loud at his suggestion the professional goes to the library for his next big business idea. Ha! Never happens (but you will find them at Starbucks). The librarian would sush the “a-ha” moment”

    “we already have a place full of books and periodicals and a coffee shop in Irvine; it’s called Barnes & Noble”

    That’s what you wrote, sir. Pretty plain meaning there. Come on– it was weak and you know it. Acknowledge it and move on.

  6. Dan Chmielewski
    March 22, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    Ryan – it isn’t weak at all. Perhaps sarcasm is lost on you. I was unable to bring a coffee into the branch in Irvine. Drinks spill you know

  7. Ltpar
    March 23, 2013 at 11:58 am

    I believe you have Steven Choi confused with Larry Agran. It was Larry not Steven who for ten years ladled out the Great Park gravy to all his buds and a few who wern’t. Show me one “No Bid” Contract that the City has initiated since the new Council Majority took over? Sorry, the gravy bowl is empty and the good old days of Agranista generosity are since past.

  8. Dan Chmielewski
    March 23, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Stayed tuned for the pending no bid contract to the interim city attorney Patrick. No bid contracts are necessarily a bad thing. I get them all the time and I hire contractors myself that I want to work with without a bid. I believe you Republicans want government to run like a business. That is how business runs

  9. Dan Chmielewski
    March 23, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Ryan. The point of the post is a massive and expensive library that would be built magically without raising taxes in a post-redevelopment world and your focus is on whether or not you can bring a snack into the library or not. No wonder you lost in Fullerton.

  10. Ryan Cantor
    March 24, 2013 at 2:35 pm


    No need to be a jackass.

    — The world

    • March 25, 2013 at 2:40 pm

      speaking for “The World” are you? Who do you think yu are? Tony Bushala?

  11. Ryan Cantor
    March 25, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    The world off non-jackassary. We meet once a month.

    You’d know, but clearly you weren’t invited to the club on account of being a jackass.

  12. Ryan Cantor
    March 25, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    It was meant to be cute. Don’t take it seriously.

    You and I have exchanged some e-mails on this and it’s clearly not going anywhere.

    For the record, my concern was with disparaging your local library in favor of promoting a big box corporate book warehouse. Sorry you didn’t get that.

    • March 25, 2013 at 8:50 pm

      But I didn’t disparage my local library; my post suggested augmenting it and school libraries.

  13. Ryan Cantor
    March 25, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    You win, Dan.

  14. cynthia curran
    May 2, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    Well, you have to have Segerstrom and Bren and others finance it like they did the Performing Arts center for Segerstrom which caused 200 million as well.

    • May 2, 2013 at 4:38 pm

      Then the Mayor can ask them for it

  15. henry gattis
    May 2, 2013 at 6:38 pm


    At least the Voiceless off our world!

    See you soon buddy!

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