Michael Hiltzik's Nov. 30 Los Angeles Times article, "Putting the Green in Orange County Great Park," is the kind of journalism that delights Larry Agran, the controversial politician running Southern California's largest public works project in decades. Hiltzik didn't mention a single valid criticism of the warped process for the six square mile public/private project. Indeed, he followed Agran's public relations spin by dismissively characterizing the intense fight over what to do with the mothballed old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station as nothing more than a "squabble."
But perhaps Hiltzik's biggest favor to Agran was leaving him out of the story. The powerful city Irvine councilman operates with an undeniable secretive, dictatorial style that has produced millions of dollars in annual no-bid contracts for his personal allies. Need more evidence of corruption: A state court forced Agran to give two of his city council colleagues access to internal government documents about park construction finances.
Instead, Hiltzik focused his piece on Emile Haddad, a 51-year-old native of Lebanon, who is managing the private side of the so-called Great Park operation for Five Point Communities, a front for Miami-based homebuilder Lennar Corp. After giving us a five-sentence corporate bio-ish version of Haddad's life and career, Haltzik presented the home builder as an environmentalist excited about developing a community that "trains people to stay out of their cars." The columnist underscored the point, writing that "Haddad's proposal . . . amounts to a green community where the car is an amenity rather than a necessity."
Ah, yes. I can imagine hearing only young birds happily chirping because, for once, the official sound of Orange County--incessant loud traffic--cannot be heard.
To arrive at this fantasyland, Hiltzik ignores the implications of this simple fact: Lennar and Haddad got Agran and his pals (like U.S. Congressional candidate Beth Krom) to approve an extra 1,300 housing units at the Great Park--bringing the total to 4,900. (Great Park or Great Home Park?) Haddad calls the concept of less park and more homes "better" and there's no doubt that it is for Lennar's bottom line.
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But what do new homes bring to an undeveloped area? Let's do the math. If each dwelling brings on average three vehicles for family occupants, that's a whopping minimum 14,700 additional cars operating near the already ridiculously congested area bordered by the 55, 5 and 405 freeways. That number doesn't even take into account untold thousands more daily car trips for the commercial elements of the proposed Great Park.
Yet, according to Hiltzik, if Haddad "pulls off" his "ambitious" construction plans "that will be a great achievement" for the green movement.
I'm not advocating against residential development on the property. I even sympathize that recent real estate market woes have delayed many noble plans for the Great Park. But given Agran's long history of, to be kind, shenanigans, it's alarming when journalists covering the project abandon their independence to become unabashed cheerleaders.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly