Secret Battles Cost Great Park Millions

By David Whiting

Despite the financial waste, failed oversight and greed detailed in last week’s Great Park audit, there also is clear evidence the public had a champion who quietly turned that culture around.

At least there is comfort in knowing that – sometimes – people who fight for public trust get their due.

I ride the elevator down to the basement archives in the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum – yes, a basement of all places – to find out who should be pilloried for promising voters an impossible Great Park dream, allowing hundreds of acres of land to lay vacant for years and squandering millions of public dollars.

Perhaps like you, I want justice.

Because of the gross mismanagement Mike Ellzey inherited when he arrived in 2008, the former El Toro Marine base in Irvine today has far more acres of weeds and cracked asphalt than the sports fields and bike paths we were originally promised.

Sitting across from Ellzey, newly appointed head of the Nixon library and former Great Park CEO, I ask for names of the bad guys.

But like many who clean up others’ messes, Ellzey shakes his head, looks at me and makes clear he’s not going to name names. Instead, he even reaches out to heal wounds by saying elected leadership such as former Irvine mayor and Great Park helmsman Larry Agran were “well-intentioned.”

The Great Park audit puts it differently.

The audit – which Agran claims needs its own audit – states Agran early on was told by the architect the project would cost $1 billion (an estimate other experts would later put at “multi-billions of dollars”). But the report then states Agran turned around and told the public the cost would be less than half the architect’s estimate.

So let’s start by allowing the 157-page audit to speak for itself.

“Mr. Ellzey coming in with fresh eyes was willing to look realistically at what was feasible,” the audit concludes. “This was not easy given the political environment Mr. Ellzey described in his deposition.

“It appears that Mr. Ellzey ultimately acted with some courage given the threats which were made against him.”

Yes, threats.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

Great Park Insider: Larry Agran’s Corruption, Incompetence Worse Than Previously Known

R. Scott Moxley

In January 2008, Larry Agran–the leader of a three-council-member, Democratic alliance that then controlled the city of Irvine for more than half a decade–desperately needed to enlist outside professional help to manage what had spiraled out of control: plans to build the Orange County Great Park, then one of California’s largest public-works projects.
But there was a problem.

Agran, a career politician who had no clue how to build a massive public park despite his promises otherwise, didn’t just crave a competent CEO for the $1.6 billion project. The county’s living liberal icon with frightening Nixonian tendencies hoped the park would be an unbreakable monument to his legacy, so he needed someone who would obey his wishes, no matter how ridiculous or shady.

Excluding the four other elected representatives on the council, as well as the other eight members of the Great Park’s Board of Directors, Agran–a losing Democratic Party presidential-primary candidate in 1992–met Mike Ellzey at an Irvine Denny’s off I-5 on Sand Canyon Avenue.

Ellzey’s background with private corporations, at a university and as CEO of the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority made him a suitable candidate for the Great Park job. Demonstrating his dictatorial sensibilities that allowed him to dismiss notions of government transparency and the participation of his colleagues, Agran unilaterally offered Ellzey a taxpayer-funded job worth more than $175,000 annually.

Of course, there was a catch.

The CEO job would remain vacant. Ellzey was invited take a government post that Agran–a Chicago native–conjured up on the spot: deputy CEO. Agan wanted to see how far he could trust Irvine’s newest public employee.

As I’d reported in detail for years before this secret Denny’s powwow, Agran’s public pronouncements about alleged strides in developing the Great Park had been a sham masking brazen corruption. Paranoid of the public learning more about his shenanigans, he nervously watched Ellzey and–apparently satisfied he could control him after about six months–elevated the outsider to the CEO post.

Yet, given this was Agran’s world–a theater of endless, conniving plots that would impress Shakespeare–Ellzey quietly learned he’d become CEO of nothing. He didn’t answer to the Great Park board or the City Council. He answered to Agran and two Great Park subcontractors: Arnold Forde (of Forde and Mollrich) and Yehudi Gaffen (of Gafcon Inc.), two of the Democrat’s pals who’ve taken millions of dollars in diverted park funds for no-bid, consulting contracts.

Continue reading at the O.C. Weekley…