O.C. REGISTER: Grand Jury Confirms Great Park Failures

By Dick Ackerman

The third time is the charm. The Orange County grand jury recently issued its third report reviewing the Great Park, its progress and governance.

The city of Irvine is required by law to respond to the report with specific action items addressing the findings. Our new City Council has spent 18 months auditing how over $250 million was spent on Great Park planning. Other than reams of pie-in-the-sky plans sitting on a shelf and some free concerts, there is little to show for our money.

As the city prepares its mandatory response to the grand jury report, I encourage them to include the findings of the Great Park audit as evidence of the reforms that have been implemented. The new council understands the depth of the problem created by others. I am confident that they are on the path to correcting the issues.

Over the past decade, the Irvine City Council was controlled by Larry Agran and Beth Krom. They ran the Great Park with an iron fist, hiring their friends, favorite consultants and passing out public money at a feverish pace – and they ran the project into a ditch.

Early in the report, the grand jury calls out the Agran and Krom by saying, “There is strong evidence of serious mismanagement of the Great Park project, costing taxpayers significant amounts of public monies.”

For the past 18 months, the city has undertaken a forensic audit of the Great Park planning process and spending. A unanimous vote – including Agran and Krom – authorized the audit. Many of the grand jury’s findings echo the findings of the Great Park audit.

I believe the grand jury is correct in its conclusion that there is strong evidence of mismanagement and squandering of public funds.

This is the third grand jury report on the Great Park. In 2006, the grand jury criticized the lack of transparency; in 2010, it questioned the park’s financial structure; and this year, it highlighted questionable expenses, including over $12 million for the Orange Balloon, and its $1 million annual operation budget.

The grand jury censured the old City Council for suppressing the true cost of the park, first telling the public it would cost $1 billion, and hiding from the public two subsequent estimates of $1.6 billion, and finally the true cost of $3 billion to $5 billion.

I am confident that new City Council’s majority will heed the advice of the grand jury and implement long-needed reforms, including a 10-year Great Park Master Plan that is grounded in the realities of today’s economy.

As a former city councilman, mayor, Irvine’s assemblyman, and state senator, I have never seen $250 million squandered in this manner by any city. The contrast is stark: The old council spent money trying to win awards for plans, and our new council is building the Great Park.

We now have three grand jury reports and a detailed forensic audit condemning Beth Krom and Larry Agran’s wasteful mismanagement of $250 million. They should be held accountable for their misdeeds.


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…

O.C. grand jury report calls for new Great Park development plan

By Matt Morrison, Daily Pilot

The city of Irvine’s stewardship of the Great Park should include a comprehensive 10-year plan for strategic development, construction and funding feasibility, according to the most recent Orange County grand jury investigation into the project’s management.

The report, released Tuesday, is titled “‘Irvine’ Great Park: A Legacy of Hubris” and is the third grand jury investigation of Great Park procedures and operations since the project started more than a decade ago. The report of the first investigation, released in 2006, criticized Irvine officials’ lack of transparency in taking control of the project. The second report, issued in 2010, questioned the project’s financing structure.

With about $250 million in expenditures so far and little of the planned 1,347-acre park completed, the project has been the subject of residents’ discontent and a two-year city audit. The 2014-15 grand jury study was undertaken as an “objective investigation to inform the public as to where the money went, the current status of the park and plans for the future,” the new report states.

Several findings in the report echo those in the Great Park audit released in March. “From the outset, the project was poorly managed and did not follow conventional principles,” the grand jury states. “There was excessive political control, influence and interference.”

On the subject of questionable spending, the report states, “There seemingly was no effective oversight over invoices, contract compliance or quality control.”

Continue reading at the Daily Pilot…

GRAND JURY: Develop a plan to pay for next phase of Irvine’s Great Park


By Sarah De Crescenzo

To avoid the “questionable decisions” and political interference that have plagued the development of the Great Park in its first decade, Irvine needs a strategy for the next 10 years, an Orange County grand jury says.

The grand jury on Tuesday released a 46-page report titled “‘Irvine Great Park: A Legacy of Hubris?” in which it says the city should develop and publish a 10-year plan for completing the park.

The report accuses the City Council that oversaw the project of poor management, faulty oversight and a lack of transparency.

The findings echo details published earlier this year in a pair of reports about Great Park spending, issued by firms hired by the city to investigate allegations of mismanagement.

Taxpayers “did not get their money’s worth regarding the Great Park investment during this first phase,” the grand jury report states.

Of the 1,347 acres of the former El Toro air base slated to become a park, 205 acres are considered developed, although about 117 of that are used for agriculture. That developed land also includes the Heritage and Aviation Exhibition in a former aircraft hangar and an arts complex.

At the end of 2014, spending tallied $251 million, a price tag the grand jury said would have been smaller had the city not overreached by crafting a plan to develop the park all at once instead of in phases.

The grand jury suggested the dissolution of the Great Park Corporation, because its Board of Directors also acts as the council, which would continue to oversee the project. The Great Park is run by the city of Irvine.

The panel also recommends adopting an ordinance to limit council members’ influence on city operations and the reduction of “extravagant expenditures,” such as the operation of the iconic orange balloon.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…