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Council orders audit of $220 million spent on Great Park

Great park night
Capping a raucous eight-hour-plus meeting, the Irvine City Council voted early Wednesday to overhaul the oversight and spending on the beleaguered Orange County Great Park while authorizing an audit of the more than $220 million that so far has been spent on the ambitious project.

A newly elected council majority voted 3 to 2 to terminate contracts with two firms that had been paid a combined $1.1 million a year for consulting, lobbying, marketing and public relations. One of those firms — Forde & Mollrich public relations — has been paid $12.4 million since county voters approved the Great Park plan in 2002.

“We need to stop talking about building a Great Park and actually start building a Great Park,” council member Jeff Lalloway said.

The council, by the same split vote, also changed the composition of the Great Park’s board of directors, shedding four non-elected members and handing control to Irvine’s five council members.

The actions mark a significant turning point in the decade-long effort to turn the former El Toro Marine base into a 1,447-acre municipal park with manmade canyons, rivers, forests and gardens that planners hoped would rival New York’s Central Park.

The city hoped to finish and maintain the park for years to come with $1.4 billion in state redevelopment funds. But that money vanished last year as part of the cutbacks to deal with California’s massive budget deficit.

“We’ve gone through $220 million, but where has it gone?” council member Christina Shea said of the project’s initial funding from developers in exchange for the right to build around the site. “The fact of the matter is the money is almost gone. It can’t be business as usual.”

The council majority said the changes will bring accountability and efficiencies to a project that critics say has been larded with wasteful spending and no-bid contracts.

For all that has been spent, only about 200 acres of the park has been developed and half of that is leased to farmers.

During public comments, newly elected Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer chastised the council for “fighting like schoolchildren.”

Earlier this week, he said that if Irvine’s new council majority can’t make progress on the Great Park, he would seek a ballot initiative to have the county take over.

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San Juan Capistrano's dinosaur statue moves closer to extinction

-- Mike Anton and Rhea Mahbubani

Photo: Two children play at the Great Park. Credit: Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times.

 
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