By R. Scott Moxley
Since the late 1970s and until about a decade ago, Larry Agran served as the most beloved liberal politician in the heart of California’s Ronald Reagan-style conservatism, Orange County. Democratic Party activists cherished his words and followed him around as loyal disciples. Lefty academics hailed him as a refreshing political reformer dedicated to good, honest government.
But 2004 ended up being a watershed year for Agran, who’d fought Bill Clinton for the 1992 Democratic Party nomination for president of the United States. Having become the undisputed boss of a political machine that controlled the City of Irvine, his deep character flaws revealed themselves to his close political and personal allies: journalist Will Swaim, then my editor here at the Weekly, UC Irvine professor and onetime an Agran-appointed city planning commission chairman Mark Petracca and defense lawyer Chris Mears.
Swaim allowed me to investigate and uncover numerous, corrupt Agran moves involving shenanigans with public funds and backroom, sweetheart deals for his pals.
Mears, who’d been a member of Agran’s 3-2 city council majority and a man who’d once chewed me out for questioning their ethics, quit the machine in disgust and told me on the record, “[Agran’s] a man who has completely lost his perspective on what it means to be a public servant.”
Petracca–one of the county’s most respected political observers and a man admired across the political spectrum for his blunt, principled assessments–painfully admitted that he’d vote for Republican council candidates in Irvine over Agran because, at least, he didn’t “question their honesty and their integrity.”
Throughout the spectacle, Agran angrily portrayed himself as the victim of a smear campaign and even issued legal threats against anyone who dared provide information and quotes to me about what was increasingly obvious a cesspool, especially in plans to build The Orange County Great Park, one of the state’s largest, public works projects.
That gross situation–reporters uncovering government malfeasance and Agran nonetheless perfecting the art of political thievery–existed for 12 years until 2013, when Republicans finally took control of Irvine.
Over the high-pitched squeals of Agran and his robotic council sidekick, Beth Krom, the new majority ordered an independent audit to answer a question the Democratic political machine didn’t want answered: How did Agran spend more than $200 million in Great Park funds, but yet after more than eight years of alleged planning there was (and is) no park?