Larry Agrans Power Trip

Irvine mayors planned public utility could enrich a political pal

"I have a major question: Are the representatives from ENCO here because I have never met them, seen them?" Shea asked. "Are they here tonight?"

"Not that I'm aware of," replied Deputy City Manager Judy Vonada.

"Why aren't they here?" asked Shea. "I mean, they are asking us to expand and to work with the city of Irvine to create a very large utility. I don't understand why they're not showing up. I have a lot of questions to ask them."

Agran volunteered nothing--no comment about Eastman's absence or anything about the proposal--and moved the agenda to the public-comments period. Former City Councilman Ray Quigley stood and stared at Agran.

"Throughout the history of the country, we have had municipalities that have been affected by political machines," said Quigley. "These machines have had almost total domination of the political process in a community. That domination rewards its friends and punishes its enemies. Those kinds of influences have proved corrupting; the parceling out of goodies to those in favor has become a way of life for many cities across the land. I recommend that this council not permit even the appearance that such a thing could happen in this town."

Having had his integrity questioned, the famously thin-skinned and feisty Agran--who made a failed bid for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination--could have fired back, offered a defense or a denial. Instead, he ignored Quigley. The mayor believed he had three votes. But Mears stunned Agran.

"I think Councilwoman Shea has raised a good point about ENCO not being here this evening," said Mears. "It's hard for me to imagine moving forward in any fashion without having ENCO here to answer questions. I suggest we continue this matter."

Agran, Dornan and ENCO had been robbed of a quick victory. In hopes of keeping the deal alive, ENCO's Eastman eventually wrote a letter to the city, apologizing for his absence but offering no reason for the slight. It was too late. The mayor's unchecked reign at City Hall was over.

The electric plan could be discussed at a late-August City Council meeting. Both Mears and Shea say they want company executives to detail any past or current relationship they have had with Agran's friends or advisers.

"I was aghast at the way it was being pushed through," said Shea. "Why wouldn't the head of the company show up to answer our questions? And then there is Ed Dornan's connection. I've never seen anything like this before in Irvine. It is really fishy."

Fishy and also hypocritical. Since he arrived on the Irvine political scene in the 1980s as a liberal idealist, Agran and his allies have righteously blasted conflicts of interest involving Republicans. For example, in 2000, then-Councilman Dave Christensen was ridiculed for voting on projects tied to a real-estate developer who'd loaned him $30,000. Said one Irvine insider, "What's really crazy about the ENCO deal is that the Agran camp has been so critical about other politicians feathering the nests of their friends, and now it looks like they're playing the same game."

* * *

Nowadays, Mears finds himself questioning Agran and his agenda. In response, the mayor is--with the aid of Dornan--scrambling to build another successful slate of City Council candidates: himself, Krom (for mayor), businessman Suhkee Kang and school-board official Debbie Coven.

"I'm sure he's going to do everything he can to save his machine," said Mears, who won't seek elective office in November. "The truth is that Larry sees the world very simply: you are either with him or against him. He likes to crush his opponents, but I don't think he's necessarily an evil guy. I really don't. Yet I've learned that [government] can be an incredibly corrupting process, and I no longer have faith in Larry."

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