South County: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

Times gives developers a chance to pound Agran over Great Park proposal

In July 1999, the Weekly published an article detailing the unlikely links between opposing camps in the battle over the creation of an international airport at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. "Out of view, the businessmen who operate the campaigns for and against the proposed airport are close allies on other highly questionable local real-estate deals," we reported. "They share financial interests, personal bonds, political ideologies and a startlingly similar—if not identical—affinity for the Newport Beach developers who are pushing most aggressively for a new airport in the heart of residential Orange County."

The story was not received well in certain quarters. Having spent more than half a decade posing as bitter rivals who despised one another, anti- and pro-airport leaders angrily threatened lawsuits to prevent its publication. Just days before the story hit the streets, Bill Kogerman—head of the anti-airport Taxpayers for Responsible Planning (TRP)—issued a statement blasting the article as "absent any honest journalistic value." (Notably, he did not dispute the facts.) Others such as Tristian Krogius and Len Kranser lobbied Weekly staffers to kill the story because it could cause harmful dissension within the anti-airport movement. In a stinging letter to the Weekly, Krogius emotionally argued that anti-airport forces should present a solid, unified front. To do less, he wrote, would "help the pro-airport forces."

Reasonable minds could differ, of course, on whether the airport omerta outweighs the value of healthy public discussion and disclosure about what is potentially the biggest public-works project in county history. But the disingenuousness of Kogerman, Krogius, Kranser and the others came sailing home recently. On Oct. 10, the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times printed a profile of Larry Agran, who is running unopposed for mayor of Irvine. Krogius—a man most notable for his bullheaded pro-developer stances in Dana Point—used the story as an opportunity to blast Agran, ostensibly his colleague in the anti-airport leadership.

"[Agran] makes things a lot harder on everyone," Krogius whined to reporter Jean O. Pasco. Irvine City Councilman Mike Ward was quoted as saying Agran's mere presence risks "breaking up the South County coalition." Without offering supporting evidence, Mission Viejo Councilwoman Susan Withrow used the story to wildly allege that Agran is anti-democratic.

Though the Times fancies itself an unbiased observer, Pasco's article used several adjectives to describe Agran—including "ambitious," "aggressive" and "liberal"—and several suggestive nouns —"irritant," "in-your-face contrariness" and a word intended to be a pejorative, "zeal." (By contrast, in a March 12 article, Pasco described Kogerman as "commanding," "essential" and "a winner.") When it came to Agran, Pasco quoted seven critics and only one supporter, UC Irvine political-science professor (and Weekly contributor) Mark Petracca.

Kranser, who is in charge of the largest anti-airport website (www. eltoroairport.org), refused to carry the Weekly's July 1999 article on Kogerman because, he said, it was divisive. Nevertheless, he immediately posted Pasco's stilted anti-Agran story.

Agran told the Weekly that he cooperated with Pasco in the reporting phase and was blindsided by the final result. He described the report as nonsense and added that he couldn't really say why she wrote it.

Despite Agran's diplomacy, it's possible to imagine a darker motive. Agran is the most successful pro-environment, slow-growth leader in Orange County history. And he is leading an effort to convert the former Marine Corps Air Station into a public park. It is Agran's vision that such a park would produce millions of dollars annually in revenue and rival San Diego's Balboa Park in beauty. Kogerman and Krogius and Kranser don't want either an airport or a park at El Toro. Their developer-backed plan—commonly referred to as the Millennium Plan—is to use the shuttered air base to build another massive urban city with things they must think the county lacks: lots of roads, industrial parks and high-rise office buildings. A portion of their plan designates a small amount of land for a park and a golf course.

But Kogerman's camp is terrified that its developer buddies—businessmen who have poured tens of thousands of corporate dollars into TRP—won't get a chance to turn the former base into a city the size of Santa Ana. Aided by Pasco, their tactics in the battle over El Toro are increasingly obvious: to portray Agran as an out-of-touch Marxist—never mind that Orange County Republican Party chief Tom Fuentes also supports Agran's park plan.

The anti-airport/anti-park/pro-development crowd—call them the AAAPPD—were seething last week when the public got a glimpse of a study that seemed to support the feasibility of Agran's vision. A final draft of that study, commissioned by the Irvine City Council and carried out by Whitney and Whitney of Los Angeles, was released to the council one month ago. The taxpayer-funded report touts the park's numerous countywide economic, environmental and quality-of-life advantages. But Kogerman's pro-development allies on the Irvine City Council tried to bury it. Pasco's contribution to the debate was a story not surprisingly titled, "Irvine Council Majority Calls Park Study Greatly Exaggerated."

It was Agran who made sure the report was made public—even as council colleague Ward shamelessly tried to get the study's author to alter the findings. Christina Shea, not known for independence from major real-estate developers (particularly those at Trammell Crow Co.), bristled about the public disclosure. Along with every other member of the council, she boldly voted to censure Agran for sharing the information with citizens.

"This is basically a wonderful report. It's good news. A park will work. People deserve to know about it," said Agran. "Why should the taxpayers not see the study? They paid for it."

Although almost certainly unintended, the Times' hit piece on Agran reinforces the Weekly's controversial July 1999 cover story. We opined at the time that close ties between anti-airport leaders and their developer opponents raise "reasonable concerns about future loyalties in the fight over El Toro." Thanks to Pasco, those concerns are now more apparent than ever.

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