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.