Garry Quite Contrary

Past catches up with OC CoastKeeper Brown

Brown acknowledged to the Weekly that he contacted the Internal Revenue Service last year to work out a payment plan for $70,000 in back taxes he owes because of his management role in a now-defunct trucking firm.

The Weekly received an anonymous tip to check Brown's court record and past employment on the afternoon of Jan. 17. That morning, the Weekly fax machine had received a widely distributed press release from CoastKeeper announcing its intent to sue the Irvine Co. over the company's looming Crystal Cove residential project.

After an earlier clash between CoastKeeper and Orange County's largest private landowner, Brown says, a Newport Beach resident familiar with local political machinations took him aside and warned, "Garry, by now, the Irvine Co. knows everyone you've slept with."

"Idon't know anything about Garry Brown other than we are working with [CoastKeeper] to resolve their concerns about our project at Crystal Cove," said Irvine Co. spokesman Paul Kranhold.

The source who tipped the Weekly claimed not to be affiliated with the Scouts or the Irvine Co., or even an Orange County resident. The tipster was apparently sent the Weekly cover story on Brown several weeks after it appeared; the source would not say who sent it.

"Obviously, with the nature of work people like us do, several interests get threatened," Barr-Washko said. "I do think it is possible there is a direct correlation between the phone calls you've been getting and the work Garry's been doing. People are threatened by it.

"He's really done some phenomenal things for an organization that is not even a year old. In LA, we can get away with that and make more friends. But even when Santa Monica BayKeeper first started, allegations were thrown around that [the group's leader] was part of the mafia."

Brown introduced CoastKeeper to Orange County by testing Newport Beach's Rhine Channel and releasing results that showed it was a toxic soup at a time when city officials were considering redevelopment on its banks. The project was put on hold.

As Huntington Beach was grappling this past summer with a mysterious bacteria scare in its coastal waters—a phenomenon some environmentalists feared might be tied to wastewater the Orange County Sanitation District pipes into the sea just beyond Huntington's shore—Brown publicly hammered away at sanitation-district plans to send an even shittier mix of water into the ocean.

In October 1999, Brown put the Laguna Beach City Council on notice that CoastKeeper was prepared to sue over Aliso Beach pollution, especially if Treasure Island—City Hall's pet resort project on the cliffs above the Pacific—further exacerbates the problem. That threat, combined with vociferous browbeating by local activists, prodded the city to take the issue much more seriously.

Also in October, CoastKeeper appealed a decision by state water-quality regulators to grant a runoff-discharge permit for the Irvine Co.'s exclusive residential development overlooking ecologically sensitive Crystal Cove State Beach. As part of the investigation of the Crystal Cove area, CoastKeeper tested the water flowing off the nearby Irvine Co.-owned golf course and decided to announce the potential suit.

Evidence of Brown's skill as a lobbyist came in January when he checked into a Santa Monica hotel a day before the state Coastal Commission would meet there to scrutinize the Crystal Cove plans. Irvine Co. representatives, who also showed up to wine and dine commissioners the night before the public hearing, were confronted with the sight of Brown already there, schmoozing the decision makers.

Commissioners began the Crystal Cove deliberations the next morning by expressing grave concerns over the project's threat to the pristine beach it overlooks. Suddenly facing further governmental-process delays to what company chairman Donald Bren has referred to as the "crown jewel" of his coastal developments, the Irvine Co. cut off further discussion by informing the commission it will bring new runoff-discharge plans before the panel in April.

CoastKeeper recently announced it is seeking donations to help outfit its 24-foot Crystaliner Heavy Duty Patrol Boat, which is used for pollution investigations, marine-education programs and water monitoring along the coast.

It remains to be seen whether Brown's past will hinder CoastKeeper in raising funds and working with other local environmental groups. But any ammunition it gives powerful interests opposed to the group's clean-water agenda will be of little use, Barr-Washko predicted.

"I think it's like little bumps we get along the way," she said. "Ultimately, it will not make a difference to the outcome."

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