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Anthony Pignataro is a terrific journalist. In fact, he's clearly Orange County's hardest-working and best reporter covering the epic struggle over the future of El Toro. But his article ("No Guarantees," Aug. 10) demonstrates that even the best reporters can miss the mark when it comes to planning and then actually creating a Great Park.
Pignataro wants a bulletproof initiative that will lock out the airport—and any other undesirable development at El Toro. The Orange County Great Park Initiative will do that. Pignataro also wants what two-thirds of Orange County voters want: he wants to lock in the Great Park, a vast metropolitan park that can truly become America's greatest park. The Great Park Initiative will do that, too. But in an excess of caution, Pignataro finds fault with the initiative because it doesn't have, in his words, "an iron-clad guarantee that the word 'park' means just that: no commercial development can ever take place within its boundaries."
No commercial development? Of any kind? Ever? Pignataro can't possibly mean that. The abandoned military base at El Toro is 4,700 acres—seven square miles. That's enough land to hold New York's Central Park and San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and San Diego's Balboa Park, and still have more than 1,000 acres left over. No commercial development of any kind at Orange County's Great Park? No privately funded Smithsonian West with commercial gift shops? No veterans' memorial and cemetery that could include private plots for sale? No commercial boat rentals at the planned 100-acre central lake? No facilities for weddings and other gatherings at the Great Park's botanical gardens? No modestly priced but "commercial" campgrounds with family cabins, small grocery and supply stores, and even a few non-multiplex old-fashioned movie theaters? No possibility of a for-profit clubhouse and restaurant as part of a public golf course? No cafés or eateries as part of a sprawling complex of art, history and science museums? No privately operated performing-arts facilities as part of a public-private partnership to bring reasonably priced live entertainment to millions? No vendors or for-profit lakeside cafés where people can enjoy a cup of coffee while reading the latest OC Weekly ads? No commercial recreation facilities—no ice rink? No tennis courts or other athletic facilities suitable for tournaments and related commercial activities? No stables for horses and horseback riding? No farmers' market next to 500 acres or even 1,000 acres of land-banked "commercial" agriculture as part of the Great Park?
Rest assured, thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and trail systems and traditional parklands and picnic areas will become a reality if the Great Park Initiative is adopted. But these wonderful open-space uses are made all the more enjoyable if some carefully planned and carefully controlled human-scale commercial development is permitted.
I understand Pignataro's concern about special interests teaming up with craven politicians to dismember or privatize large chunks of the Great Park. Is that a possibility? Yes, of course it's possible. But it's not likely to happen. I'm very confident that after working for years—successfully—to stop an unwanted airport and then to create the greatest park in America, hundreds of thousands of Orange Countians will never surrender their stake in planning the Great Park.
Decades in public life have taught me that once empowered, the people jealously defend their power. The Orange County Great Park is more than an idea embodied in a citizens' initiative. It's a grassroots people's movement now. Have faith in the people. Great Park, yes!Larry Agran
THE PARK IS A LARK
Thanks to Anthony Pignataro for pointing out the flaws in the so-called Great Park Initiative. I have refused to sign the petition because of these exact loopholes that allow for massive development. The only thing "green" about this measure is the money that would enrich developers and the city of Irvine. As it stands now, there is the dilemma of picking the lesser of two evils: a commercial airport at El Toro or developers raping what's left of the open space in OC. Unfortunately, there are some people out there who don't care what happens to the whole county just so long as the airport is killed. This is akin to using a sledgehammer on a wall just to swat a fly.
For those concerned about killing an airport and preserving the "quality of life" in OC, they should just put Measure S on the ballot again. It would be sue-proof and would overturn Measure A, which zoned the base for use as a commercial airport. And if Irvine wants the voters to trust them with custody of the 4,700-acre base for a "park" and "open space," they really need to improve their current record of land stewardship. Preserving Laguna Canyon would be a great start!Rex Ricks