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The Great Park: Hot Air?

Originally publish August 19, 2010

Thanks to Larry Agran, a few people have gotten very rich from the county’s proposed $1.2 billion, still-not-built park

By R. Scott Moxley

Stand dead-center on the 2-mile runways at mothballed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, like I did recently, and look around. You’ll see the past: long-abandoned, dilapidated structures—massive jet hangars, an aircraft-control tower, barracks and assorted military-support buildings whose origins trace back to the 1941 Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s as if time has forgotten the place Lee Harvey Oswald once called home. Listen for evidence of modern life: Though you’re surrounded in the distance by some of the busiest highways in the world, the soundtrack is the steady whistle of an inexhaustible breeze. Rabbits and squirrels—apparently unaccustomed to sharing these 4,700 acres abandoned by the Pentagon 11 years ago—dart into ubiquitous patches of tall, rust-colored weeds beneath a royal-blue sky made enormous by the flat terrain. It’s impossible not to feel awe.

Like Orange County, this property — North America’s largest lima-bean field before World War II — is a monument to contradictions. It’s ironic that a spot where men trained to kill for half a century is, at least by outward appearances, such a peaceful spot now. It’s even more ironic that its tranquil appearance is an illusion. Even today, this land is steeped in conflict. Today’s combatants don fine suits and chow on $29 plates of spaghetti while directing the moves of platoons of public-relations flacks and lawyers.

One last irony: Like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the public is oblivious to the vicious tug-of-war over this soil. The Irvine property, which could play a dominant, positive role in Southern California’s future, as well as make or break the reputations of a number of politicians and real-estate developers, remains in a puzzling limbo.

You can thank the current inactivity on the manipulations of Irvine’s most-powerful politician: City Councilman Larry Agran, the 1992 Democratic Party presidential candidate who controls the city’s 3-2 council majority and thus the conversion of the Marine base into a public/private partnership called the Great Park. Agran—the county’s most-prominent progressive figure until 2005, when all local news outlets here documented his penchant for secrecy, half-truths and reckless spending—sounds defensive when asked about the continual delays.

“I don’t know where the idea materialized out there that somehow we would have the great metropolitan park developed full-scale within a matter of a few years,” Agran told The Orange County Register in May. “Nobody ever promised that. . . .”

Continue reading at OC Weekly…

Judge orders former Irvine mayor Larry Agran to testify about Great Park

By Sarah de Crescenzo

An Orange County Superior Court judge has ordered former Irvine mayor Larry Agran to answer questions about any quid pro quo arrangements with Great Park contractors or consultants.

Judge Franz Miller issued a minute order last week, tentatively ruling that Agran must respond in writing to questions submitted by Anthony Taylor, the city of Irvine’s attorney on Great Park matters. The testimony will be sealed.

But the judge denied the city’s request to hold Agran in contempt and to make him pay attorney fees.

The city hired Taylor to investigate the $251 million spent through 2014 on the park project, which critics have called an overly ambitious and poorly managed fiasco, and he questioned Agran in March.

During the deposition, Taylor asked the longtime politician to name any companies that did work on the Great Park and also volunteered for Agran’s political campaigns from 2005-12.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

Final Audit Report Shows Larry Agran’s Great Park Plan Was A Debacle From Outset

By R. Scott Moxley, O.C. Weekly

Twelve years ago, Larry Agran, Irvine’s career politician and mayor who’d never built anything, issued bold statements about his ability to build a “world-class” government park at the mothballed Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, and people, especially journalists, believed him.
“Move over, Manhattan,” wrote an excited Christian Science Monitor reporter in April 2003. “Stand aside San Francisco. In Orange County, the final hurdle has been cleared for a ‘county great park’ that will exceed the size of Central Park and Golden Gate Park put together.”

The reporter–who didn’t know the mayor and his political scheming actually would be the final hurdles–went on to echo the mayor’s oral machinations, declaring that “the area is considered America’s leading laboratory of ‘post suburbia’ . . . ”

Agran also provided the money quote, “We are finally moving forward with a plan that will transform the future of Orange County.”

In pure Agranista form, the paper unquestioningly repeated his biggest lie in the title to a chapter in the article: “No cost to citizens.”

Add you own exclamation point!

Those of us who for 12 years closely watched Agran and his Democratic political machine operate dictatorial control over the project didn’t fall for the empty hype. Their operatives received lucrative, no-bid contracts for a public park that didn’t yet exist. They wasted nearly $50 million on a park design plan that was laughably unattainable–a huge, man-made canyon and waterfalls!–the moment it landed on paper. Paranoid of being caught in various scandals, they treated park records with NSA-type secrecy. Agran conducted park spending business through his wife’s private email account. Despite claiming otherwise, they planned to use a special tax scheme to boost park coffers until Gov. Jerry Brown killed such tactics. They ran fake Republican candidates to dilute their opponents’ election strength. After years and years of spending several hundred million dollars without building a single, major promised feature, the Agran finally alliance lost power in 2012.

What happened? Agran and Beth Krom, his robotic sidekick, blame the economy on their wild spending spree that emptied park coffers. Nobody but the pair’s Kool-Aid drinkers ever bought that falsehood.

Continue reading at OC Weekly…

The Great Park: Hot Air?

By R. Scott Moxley

Thanks to Larry Agran, a few people have gotten very rich from the county’s proposed $1.2 billion, still-not-built park.

Stand dead-center on the 2-mile runways at mothballed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, like I did recently, and look around. You’ll see the past: long-abandoned, dilapidated structures—massive jet hangars, an aircraft-control tower, barracks and assorted military-support buildings whose origins trace back to the 1941 Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s as if time has forgotten the place Lee Harvey Oswald once called home. Listen for evidence of modern life: Though you’re surrounded in the distance by some of the busiest highways in the world, the soundtrack is the steady whistle of an inexhaustible breeze. Rabbits and squirrels—apparently unaccustomed to sharing these 4,700 acres abandoned by the Pentagon 11 years ago—dart into ubiquitous patches of tall, rust-colored weeds beneath a royal-blue sky made enormous by the flat terrain. It’s impossible not to feel awe.
Like Orange County, this property—North America’s largest lima-bean field before World War II—is a monument to contradictions. It’s ironic that a spot where men trained to kill for half a century is, at least by outward appearances, such a peaceful spot now. It’s even more ironic that its tranquil appearance is an illusion. Even today, this land is steeped in conflict. Today’s combatants don fine suits and chow on $29 plates of spaghetti while directing the moves of platoons of public-relations flacks and lawyers.

One last irony: Like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the public is oblivious to the vicious tug-of-war over this soil. The Irvine property, which could play a dominant, positive role in Southern California’s future, as well as make or break the reputations of a number of politicians and real-estate developers, remains in a puzzling limbo.

Continue reading at the O.C. Weekly…