There’s no doubt that Irvine Council member Christina Shea is a conservative Republican. Yet she has shown an independent streak of late that has us wondering is she really being independent or is it a matter of a broken clock being right twice a day?
Last week’s Great Park Board meeting which preceded the Irvine City Council meeting, the Park’s budget was the only real topic of debate. The budget called for nearly $2 million in cuts to the Park’s programming and operations recommended by Chair Jeff Lalloway and supported by Mayor Steven Choi. Both say they want to build the park but do everything in their power to gut programs and reasons for people to come to the park. The duo are quickly gaining a reputation for a pair that know the cost of everything yet the value of nothing (yes, that’s an Oscar Wilde quote).
The Park isn’t out of money. It carries no debt. It’s worth hundreds of millions and can generate tens of millions. And there is tremendous progress happening that OC residents can see for themselves later this summer (if you go to the Farmer’s Market there on Sundays as often as I do, the change is more than obvious; many of the park’s biggest critics rarely show up at the Great park for anything). The new Park features that will be completed this summer include the South Lawn, new sports fields, the Historic Walkable Timeline, the Reflecting Pond and Viewing Pier, and a new Visitors Center will open. The new skate park could be as challenging as any skate park in OC, but I’m not sure when that is scheduled for completion.
Shea joined Beth Krom and Larry Agran in voting to restore $1 million in available funding for the Great Park’s cultural and recreational programming features. Her previous vote with Lalloway and Choi to start charging for the balloon ride and carousel and ridership on both attractions is down between 80 and 90 percent. It was smart of Shea to back a proposal that funds programs that make people want to come to the Park. But we’re unlikely to see another Facebook war break out between Shea and Lalloway.
But what perhaps was the biggest news to emerge from last weeks meeting is that the city council, by a 5-0 vote, will completely eliminate the city’s unfunded liability over the next several years. The new plan fully funds the city’s pension obligations a decade ahead of schedule and will result in taxpayer savings of between $22 and $33 million. Couple this with the fact Irvine has a balanced budget, no municipal debt and a strong reserve fund (as well as a budget surplus this year), and the case the Republican majority makes for an austerity plan doesn’t hold up to the fiscal facts.
Irvine’s anticipated long-term obligation is just over $91 million. The City will use funds from long-term reserves, direct about $3 million from this year’s expected $11 million budget surplus, and apply about $1 million a year from the next 13 years of expected future surpluses to fully fund the City’s retirement plans; in addition, the Asset Management Plan will be fully re-paid. The foundations for this plan were set down by the smart fiscal leadership of progressive Mayors and City Councils from 2000-2012.