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New Irvine council majority vows probe of Great Park spending

January 7, 2013 | 12:35 pm

An old airplane hangar is fenced off at the site of the Great Park in Irvine. Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times

A decade after Orange County residents were promised that a sprawling urban park would take shape within years at an old Marine base, civic leaders in Irvine are preparing to request a top-to-bottom examination of the ambitious plans and the tens of millions that has been spent on the Great Park.

To date, only 200 of the planned 1,347 acres have been developed, and half of that land is leased out for commercial farming.

Conservative council members, who had been in the minority untils the November city elections, have complained that the $200 million park plan has been bogged down by mismanagement and misspending.

Firing longtime consultants, reforming leadership of the nonprofit that manages the park and performing a forensic financial audit of the project are all on the table for the council's first meeting of the year on Tuesday.

Opposing council members say the move is a witch hunt that will disrupt a massive municipal construction project that they say has been plagued not by mismanagement but by a sluggish economy and state government money grabs.

Now, members in the conservative majority — Christina Shea, Mayor Steven Choi and Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Lalloway — have each added items to Tuesday's council agenda picking apart decisions made by the previous majority.

Choi proposes reducing the Great Park Corp. board of directors from nine members to five, eliminating four "at large" positions intended to represent stakeholders outside Irvine. The panel's other five directors are Irvine's five council members.

Lalloway proposes ending contracts worth $1.1 million annually by firing the park's consulting firm, Forde & Mollrich, and its public relations and lobbying firm, Townsend Public Affairs Inc.

Shea proposes hiring an outside firm to conduct a forensic audit of the park's finances, asking for a comprehensive report on what money has been spent and what's been produced in return.

"I think we just want to make certain that the public has confidence of where we are in the park and that there haven't been any problems, whether it be cronyism or criminality," Lalloway said of the proposals.

Councilwoman Beth Krom contends the new majority's moves are politically motivated showboating. "I think any time you suggest that a forensic audit needs to be done, it's either because there's some gross impropriety or you'd like to create the impression of some gross impropriety," she said.

"I believe this is the latter," she added.

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-- Jeremiah Dobruck

Photo: An old airplane hangar is fenced off at the site of the Great Park in Irvine. Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times 

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