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OC REGISTER: FivePoint Cemetery Plan a Fitting Tribute

By the Orange County Register Editorial Board

Earlier this month, when the Irvine City Council decided to split the proverbial baby and move forward on both sites for the proposed veterans cemetery, skeptics complained that developer FivePoint Communities hadn’t offered any specifics for its plan. We will have to wait no longer.

On Thursday, the developer sent a formal proposal for the potential land exchange to the city manager and the five council members. In it, Emile Haddad, chairman and CEO of FivePoint, lays out a vision that he believes will present the city with cost savings and expedite the construction of the cemetery.

The swap would see the cemetery moved to a similar-sized piece of land, currently being used for farming, which is owned by FivePoint and near the El Toro “Y.” Farmland would undoubtedly be easier to remediate than demolishing an abandoned airfield, currently estimated at $77.4 million for the first phase.

Plus, as we’ve previously noted, the current site is controversial because of its proximity to homes, especially to adherents of the ancient Chinese philosophy of feng shui — and people who just don’t like the idea of their property abutting a cemetery. This alternative site has the support of both residents and the veterans group formed to push for a cemetery.

The FivePoint proposal, spread across as much as 125 acres, fittingly straddles Marine Way and contains a host of proposed amenities for honoring our fallen men and women in uniform. The site would include a veterans memorial on the side facing the I-5 freeway. Plus, its proximity to the freeway allows ease of access for visitors and a solemn reminder of the price of freedom to those passing by.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

Great Park travails show the travesty of politics

By Steven Greenhut

One of the great fallacies of our modern world is the idea that development decisions should largely be made through politics and public input. That way all the “stakeholders” get their say and the end result – following city council motions, public votes and bureaucratic oversight – expresses the will of the people.

I’m always looking for ways to illustrate why this is not so – i.e., why letting developers just develop stuff (provided they follow basic rules) is the most harmonious approach. For example, all the voter-approved no-growth restrictions in San Francisco have ensured that only trust-funders can afford to live in that particular dog-eat-dog housing market.

But why go to San Francisco, when Orange County’s 22-year battle over the redevelopment of the decommissioned El Toro Marine Corps Air Station offers an example? In 1994, voters approved an international airport plan. The ensuing eight years were filled with strife, culminating in a 2002 vote that rezoned the location for an Orange County Central Park and Nature Preserve.

The Great Park was born, but 14 years later, it still hasn’t grown out of its infancy. This political process hasn’t created the world-class park we were promised. For years, barely anything happened there, although park officials ran a well-oiled public-relations machine. In recent years, the park has gained modest attractions.

But this was a project that was supposed to rival Balboa Park or Central Park. At the going rate, it might be a decent regional park, of the type you visit for a kids’ soccer game. An 8-year-old Register article reminded me of the grand visions pitched to the voting public of “a majestic, 1,300-acre central park, where military runways, hangars and chain-link fences are transformed into expanses of sports fields, eye-catching natural landmarks and cultural gathering points.”

Orange County is the nation’s premier spot for master-planned communities. A developer could have built something magnificent in the ensuing nine years. By now, the acreage would be a privately financed showplace. Instead, the main thing Californians have to show is an endless local political battle that has even dragged in state officials.

Last year, the Orange County Grand Jury released “Irvine Great Park: A Legacy of Hubris.” It blasted a “lack of progress” over a decade and raised questions about the project’s transparency. “Unfortunately, what the public got bears little semblance to the pipedreams they were sold,” the grand jury explained.

Irvine annexed the park back when Democrat Larry Agran controlled the City Council. Republicans had long accused him and his allies of mismanaging the park. When they finally took control of the City Council in 2013, they conducted an audit of the project. The 157-page report painted a damning picture.

“It has been said many times in defense of the decisions made from 2006 to 2009, that it was the recession or the state’s dissolving redevelopment that killed the Great Park. This is false,” according to the city’s audit. “The Master Plan was killed not by the recession or the loss of the redevelopment funding, it was killed by its own hubris.”

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

O.C. REGISTER: Dueling Audits

Orange County Register Editorial

The state auditor released its own audit of the Irvine Great Park audit this month that was highly critical of the methods and practices the city and its auditor employed, arguing they “compromised the review’s credibility.” Yet, what the audit doesn’t seem to take much issue with is the Irvine audit’s actual findings.

To be sure, when politicians get involved, politics ensues. But what remains to be seen for us is why the state Legislature chose to sic the state auditor on the city of Irvine now, while turning a blind eye for more than a decade to the largesse at the Great Park.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature was nowhere in sight while $200 million in development funds was spent to complete less than one-sixth of the project to convert the closed El Toro Marine Corps air base into a huge regional park. Neither was the Legislature’s interest piqued by Great Park audits conducted during the years of Democratic control, which found nothing amiss.

It seems that the Legislature only jumps into action when Gafcon Inc., a one-time donor to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who proposed the state audit to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee three times, is threatened, not when millions in taxpayer dollars were seemingly wasted at the 688-acre park site.

Irvine Mayor Steven Choi headed to November state assembly election

By Tomoya Shimura, Orange County Register

Irvine Mayor Steven Choi is headed to the November general election in the race to replace termed-out Assemblyman Don Wagner, making him the favorite against a Democratic opponent in the conservative 68th Assembly District.

Choi edged former Anaheim City Councilman Harry Sidhu by 154 votes, or 0.1 percentage points, to finish second in the June 7 primary. It took the Orange County Registrar of Voters office nearly three weeks to count and certify the results because of an unprecedented number of last-minute mail-in ballots.

Lone Democrat Sean Jay Panahi finished first, receiving 33 percent of the votes. Voters could cast votes for any candidate regardless of party affiliation in the primary. The race featured seven candidates, including five Republicans and one with no party preference.

The top two vote-getters – Panahi and Choi – will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.

Choi said he is “99 percent” confident he will win the general election based on the district’s voting history.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

DAILY PILOT: Curtain to close on Irvine Meadows Amphitheater

By Matt Morrison

The sunset over Irvine Thursday night will mark the proverbial fade to memory for Orange County’s premier outdoor concert venue.

That’s when Irvine Meadows Amphitheater begins its 35th and final season of musical performances before closing this fall.

The first of the final season of eclectic shows opens with an ethnic punk themed lineup featuring L.A. based Celtic rockers Flogging Molly. Filling out the marquee are Southern California ska/reggae band Hepcat and gypsy punk group Gogol Bordello.

Already announced shows include Fallout Boy, Journey with the Doobie Brothers and Dave Mason, Dave Matthews Band, Brad Paisley, Duran Duran and Def Leppard.

Over the years, the stage has hosted some of the biggest names in pop, rock and country, including Michael Jackson, Oingo Boingo, Ozzy Osbourne, Bob Dylan and Orange County’s own No Doubt. Irvine Meadows also supported numerous groundbreaking musical festivals like Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair and the Christian Fishfest.

“One of the biggest events I can remember was when the Eagles reunited for their comeback ‘Hell Freezes Over tour'” in 1994, said Irvine Meadows General Manager Mark Curto. “They played three sold-out shows here, and it was just really special.”

The same can be said for scores of superstar acts that performed under the stars. Jackson, at the pinnacle of his popularity, played three nights in November 1988 during his “Bad” tour. Jimmy Buffett has been bringing the parrot-heads out for years in a regular stop on his tour schedule, and the Grateful Dead played in Irvine 15 times — there was what police called a “near riot” at a 1989 show — before bandleader Jerry Garcia died in 1995.

“The parking lot was always fun, especially when the Grateful Dead showed up,” said Stanton J. Beal, 56, remembering his treks to Irvine on several occasions in the ’80’s as a UCLA undergrad. “It was always like a carnival outside a carnival.”

The amphitheater opened in 1981 on 50 acres of land owned by the Irvine Co. and leased to Live Nation concert promoters on a 35-year land-lease deal. The venue was known as the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, after its main sponsor, from 2000 to 2014.

Continue reading at the Daily Pilot…

Photo credit: Live Nation

For the 11th year, Irvine is among nation’s safest cities

By Sarah de Crescenzo

Irvine has again recorded the nation’s lowest per capita violent crime rate among cities with at least 100,000 population, officials announced Monday.

Last year was the 11th year in a row that the rapidly growing city maintained its status as one of the nation’s safest, with 49 people per 100,000 residents being a victim of violent crime. By comparison, the county’s largest city, Anaheim, recorded 317 violent crimes per 100,000 people last year.

In 2014, Irvine police reported 120 violent crimes, which include homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. That year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which compiles crime data from agencies in an annual report, estimated the city had 242,971 residents.

While there were seven fewer such violent incidents in 2013 – 113 were reported – the city’s population was estimated at 235,830, or about 7,000 fewer residents.

Even as Irvine continues to grow in population, its crime rate has remained low.

“As we become bigger, we remain safe,” Mayor Steven Choi said in a written statement.

In fact, the federal data released Monday revealed the city had recorded its lowest-ever per capita crime rate. That takes into account Part 1 crimes, a category comprised of violent crime and property crime.

Compared to 2013, the 2014 data show fewer homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults reported. However, 28 rapes were reported in 2014, more than double the 12 reported the prior year.

Property crimes was also down. The 3,045 property crimes reported in 2014 were fewer than in 2013, according to the FBI.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

PHOTO CREDIT: SAM GANGWER, O.C. REGISTER STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Irvine Makes ‘Best Places to Live’ List

By Sarah de Crescenzo

A list released this week by Livability.com ranks Irvine as the 50th best small- to midsized city to live in the nation.

It is the third year running the website has published a list titled the “Top 100 Best Places to Live.”

Cities in more than 30 states made the list this year. Nearly a quarter were cities in California.

“Each of these cities is a great place to live,” said Matt Carmichael, the site’s editor. “Not every city is perfect for everyone, of course, but these are the top 5 percent, and somewhere in the top 100, you’ll find a great fit to call your best place.”

Of Irvine, the site said: “More than 21,000 companies enjoy success in Irvine, and the city’s business-friendly atmosphere and picturesque setting attracts Hollywood filmmakers for major motion pictures.”

The abundance of educational opportunities was also a factor in Irvine’s inclusion.

“Public schools receive about $9 million in direct and indirect support each year, and college students can choose between 10 higher education campuses,” the site’s blurb about the city stated.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

See the list here on Livability.com

O.C. REGISTER: Sacramento Riding to Rescue of Irvine Democrats

Orange County Register Editorial

Only now, when long-awaited progress is being made at the Orange County Great Park, the result of a political shift at Irvine’s City Hall, do concerns over an audit of park finances, and the park’s role as a political tool, warrant intervention from Sacramento.

Despite two failed attempts to prod the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee to sign off on a state audit of the city’s Great Park audit, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, prevailed Tuesday when the Democratic-controlled panel finally concurred.

Ms. Gonzalez insinuated that politics determined the conclusions of the audit, pushed by the officially nonpartisan Irvine council’s current Republican majority, which criticized the years of park development managed by the council’s former Democratic majority.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature was nowhere in evidence while $200 million in development funds was spent, as the Register recently noted, to complete less than one-sixth of the project to convert the closed El Toro Marine Corps air base into a huge regional park. Neither was the Legislature’s interest piqued by Great Park audits conducted during the years of Democratic control, which found nothing amiss.

But if Ms. Gonzalez’s goal really was to determine whether politics played a hand in wasteful spending on the Great Park – by comparison, the current council has spent about $1.5 million on its audit – the examination’s findings made the answer abundantly clear.

Recall the testimony of Mike Ellzey, former Great Park CEO and current director of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, about when he questioned a $100,000-per-month public relations contract for the undeveloped park with Newport Beach-based firm Forde & Mollrich.

“We’ve got to reduce that. I mean, that’s way too much. We’ve got to reduce that,” Mr. Ellzey recalled telling two Great Park staffers in a sworn deposition to city-hired auditors last year.

“They literally laughed,” he recalled. “I asked them, ‘Why are you laughing?’”

Their reply? “Good luck on that.”

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

O.C. REGISTER: Irvine ‘living wage’ rule unfair to many

By Christina Shea

In early June, the Irvine City Council, on a 4-1 vote, repealed a 2007 ordinance establishing a “living wage.”

Out of the hundreds of contracts entered into by the city, this ordinance covered 15 contracts, and required those employers to pay their workers a minimum of $10.82 per hour, and as much as $13.50.

Additionally, the ordinance didn’t apply solely to employees working in Irvine. It required the employers to pay “living wages” to all their employees, working throughout Orange County.

A hypothetical example: Acme Janitorial service, a regional company, cleans government buildings. They compete and win Irvine’s contract to clean City Hall. Acme is then required by this ordinance to pay this wage not only to their Irvine employees but to all their employees, companywide, throughout O.C.

Hence, all of Acme Janitorial employees are paid Irvine’s “living wage,” subsidized by our taxpayers. It is troubling, as no other city in Orange County requires a “living wage.” Therefore, Irvine citizens were subsidizing the cost to provide higher wages to all these employees doing work in other cities. This, in my opinion, is ethically wrong.

Because of the terms of the ordinance, it has been estimated that Irvine taxpayers paid an additional $1.5 million a year for contract services, as employers would bump up their bids to cover the cost to pay all employees they had working for them in the county. Over the approximate eight years that the ordinance was effective, that totals about $12 million.

Recently, in one contract alone, an otherwise-qualified contractor asked to withdraw his bid because it would cost an additional $100,000 to provide for this requirement.

When qualified bidders withdraw, or local business can’t compete, both our taxpayers and local employees are hurt.

The Register published a story July 28 headlined “Irvine’s faith leaders want city to revive living-wage law.” In it, the Rev. Paul Telstra of Irvine United Congregational Church and other Orange County religious leaders called for the City Council to reinstate the ordinance.

While Thomas Jefferson and James Madison correctly warned that our fledgling republic should avoid the blending of organized religion and government, its actually refreshing to me the clergy took the time to weigh in on civic issues.

However, I would suggest, before they dip their toes into the waters of public policy, they contact council members to familiarize themselves with the facts.

I maintain regular office hours, so I am always available to talk about any policy the city implements or proposes.

In my view, the clergy’s concern about Irvine issues would be better directed towards the squandering of $250 million wasted at the Great Park these past many years. Imagine how many jobs, and good wages, we could have created.

I consider myself a compassionate person who will lend a hand to many who are struggling. But, I also take very seriously my fiduciary responsibility to our residents and taxpayers.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

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.

PHOTO CREDIT: OCDaily