When Irvine mayor Steve Choi sat down with the Orange Counter Register seeking their endorsement in the last election, he posted an interesting question: “What business are we in? Building the park or entertainment events?” He is referring to current uses of the park space. Well, we’re happy to report we’ve reviewed the records and communications associated with the recently held Korean Cultural Festival and Irvine is INDEED in the Party Business. In fact, The Korean Cultural Festival was able to use Irvine’s Civic Center Plaza, for next to nothing. They paid about $3500 for costs associated with security, maintenance, clean up, and signage; Mayor Choi kicked in about $1400 of the $10,000 each council member gets for promoting community groups.
As far as the cost of using City Hall’s lobby and the Plaza Courtyard and the grounds of City hall, the cost was zero. Zip, nada, nothing. A complete gift of public funds and resources to a group Choi is a co-founder of. And a party for about 2,000 people was held for a little over $5,000. If this politics things doesn’t work, perhaps Choi can become a wedding planner later. So while Choi, Jeff Lalloway and Christina Shea were so good about cutting events like the new Year’s Eve Celebration at the Great Park or charging for the Balloon ride and Carousel — things that benefit the entire community — Choi had no trouble playing host to Irvine’s Korean American community with a gift of taxpayer funds. I thought this council majority didn’t like spending taxpayer dollars on a party?
There is good news here for other community non-profits. The fact is, under city policy, your organization too can get Civic Center Plaza for an event for free with the same conditions Mayor Choi got for his Korean American Cultural Group. Hey, Irvine has a big Persian Community, a decent sized Latino population, a number of Chinese and Vietnamese Americans, and lets not forget our friends in the LGBT community. Could a Mulsim celebration at City Hall be in the cards?
All you have to do to be eligible is be a non-profit organization (hey Tea Party, c’mon down), have a organizational mission that must be compatible with the city’s mission and core values (well, there goes the Gay Pride Festival in Irvine…this council majority would never approve such a thing), the proposed collaboration must meet a need identified by the City Council in one of the listed documents (that list was not offered to us), and that prior relationships of the prospective community partner with the city have been successful. This last item is a real Catch 22; how can you have a prior relationship with the city that was successful if you never had a relationship with the city to begin with? In case your wondering, the Irvine Korean Cultural Festival (IKCF) was charged $963 for community services facility reservation staff, $527 for custodians, $160 for security, $1,500 for public safety, and $1,200 for the iShuttle for a total of $4,350 in direct costs. Indirect costs paid for by taxpayers via Dr. Choi’s annual $10K allotment was $480 for Community Services planning and setup, $60 for banners/locations, $76 for permit processing, set up and day of support services cost $170, and $620 in public safety planning and permit processing for a total of $1,406. So the cost of the event was $5,756. Civic Center Plaza and City Hall was rent free.
Sponsorships solicited by the Mayor and others from the IKCF helped defray the costs of food, drink, public address equipment, furniture rentals and such but still…when the venue itself only costs less than $6K, what a deal? Notice, there’s no charge to rent the Civic Center Plaza or Irvine City Hall which is a gift of Public Funds.
In his July newsletter to residents, Dr. Choi talked abut the many events he is invited to and apologized in advance for the ones he can’t make: “Since I was elected, I have seen firsthand that the Mayor, whoever it is, receives many more invitations than a Councilmember. The Mayor is invited to join just about all the events and celebrations in our community, large and small, both public and private. These range from 4th of July celebrations to Eagle Scout ceremonies and ice cream store openings.
I am not complaining! I really enjoy attending community events as often as possible. I also like attending the Grand Openings of new businesses in Irvine, along with the Chamber of Commerce business ambassadors. I want to be among the first to welcome these businesses to Irvine and to offer my best wishes for their success. And I think the Irvine Chamber appreciates my good “attendance record”. But as you know, the job of Mayor is so much more than attending events and ceremonies. There is the serious work of the City Council, which is my top priority. Then there are the countywide and regional meetings, such as those of the Southern California Association of Governments, which includes six different counties.
People often ask me, as a friendly question, “How’s the mayoral job?” or “How do you like being Mayor?” My reply is usually something like, “I enjoy it very much; but I need to do a better job of managing my time!” I sometimes add, “We have lots of work to do in Irvine.” To the readers of my eNewsletter, I hope you will understand if I cannot accept an invitation to your event. I do my best.
We bet he never misses an event hosted by any Korean American group in Irvine. Its the one segment of our population Dr. Choi has placed over all others. He is considering a run for John Campbell’s seat in Congress citing the desire of the Korean American community to have a voice in Congress even if in more than 8-1/2 years on the city council, Dr. Choi’s voice and inability to put coherent sentences together haven’t brought forth any sort of major policy initiative. The Korean American Community came out in force for Sukhee Kang last November but it wasn’t enough to propel Kang to Congress. In fact, Choi is seeking to elevate two Korean “Friendship Cities” to “Sister City” status for the purpose of a taxpayer-paid junket to Korea. That’s coming up at a city council meeting soon. Ask Jeff Lalloway if that’s a wise use of taxpayer funds?
But back to the IKCF for a moment; every member of the city council was asked to write a welcome letter for the program along with invitations from Supervisor Todd Spitzer, and Assembly members Allan Mansoor and Don Wagner. You can find all the letters online but in the program issued that day, only Choi’s, Lalloway’s, Spitzer, Wagner’s and Mansoor’s letters were published making this cultural celebration’s official program a Republican Sausage Fest. We’re fortunate to have lot of friends in Irvine who are Korean-American. The hushed embarrassment of these friends about the recent IKCF is that there was a glaring omission on the invitation list. Irvine’s first Korean American Mayor, Sukhee Kang, was not invited by Mayor Choi. My Korean friends, who place honor over partisanship, believe Kang should not only have been invited but he should have been offered a speaking slot. They view this omission this was a grave error and a deliberate oversight by Mayor Choi — one that actually warrants some sort of apology (good luck on that; Choi still hasn’t apologized for the Photoshopped images of Nancy Pelosi as Stalin or as a Nazi SS officer from 2009). They tell me Mayor Choi needs to start placing humility over arrogance and partisanship. Kang should have been invited by the Mayor and recognized at the event. Perhaps Choi can right that wrong for the next big, inexpensive party the city throws for his Korean American constituents.