San Diego Politician Seeks To Undermine OC Great Park Audit

In Legally Blonde 2, Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) works to pass anti-animal testing legislation. But her sly boss, a congresswoman (Sally Fields), secretly sabotages the effort on behalf of a money-hungry campaign contributor. Though naïve and ditsy, Woods uses her charm to turn once contemptuous politicians into admirers, wins a new law and everybody, including her Chihuahua Bruiser, lives happily ever after.

It's a feel good Hollywood tale that doesn't quite mirror reality, at least in Sacramento. On April 22, Assemblywoman Lorena S. Gonzalez tried to play the role of an Elle Woods-type do-gooder by advocating that the state auditor open an investigation into the City of Irvine. Her issue? In a rambling, semi-coherent statement, Gonzalez said the legislature has "a responsibility" to determine if the audit of Orange County Great Park spending was performed "for political reasons."

The reason for the audit is obvious. Flabbergasted Irvine residents wanted to know how city officials spent about $250 million in park funds without building a single, major, promised feature of the proposed project. And the answer is most definitely political, but not the way Gonzalez is spinning the issue.

Gonzalez is a San Diego Democrat. The crew that wasted the $250 million--in part by giving their own political operatives lucrative, no-bid contracts--are Democrats: Beth Krom, Larry Agran and Sukhee Kang. The folks Gonzalez wants audited are the people who complied with public sentiment and ordered the spending review that documented widespread mismanagement, incompetence and cronyism: Christina Shea, Jeff Lalloway and Steven Choi, all Republicans.

Yesterday, a shameless Gonzalez asked the state's Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC), a Democrat-controlled panel, to shift at least $250,000 in funds intended to inspect wasteful state agencies and spend it on auditing Irvine's legally-authorized audit. Her reasoning is breathtaking in its absurdity.

"You could Google 'Gafcon' and 'City of Irvine' and see some of the things that were done along the way--the releasing of depositions on a website prior to the audit being completed," she testified.

Sounds horrible like a risque leak to TMZ, doesn't it? But the website was the city's public website and, as best I can tell, residents appreciated investigator Anthony R. Taylor's commitment to public disclosure. The only people who didn't like the release of the depositions as they were completed were the likes of Agran and Krom because the information revealed the depths of mismanagement at the park.

For example, park staffers for the first time confirmed under oath that favored private consultants ran the project with a dictatorial style and budget concerns were often dismissed. Change orders inflated expenses by a whopping 25 percent. Key records went mysteriously missing. And at least 26 deals worth more than $100,000 each were given out--often to the Democrats' allies--without competitive bidding.

Despite her nonsense, Gonzalez secured a JLAC vote of 9 to 3 for the state audit. But the motion didn't pass because it didn't comply with a rule that at least four members of the assembly as well as at least four senators must vote. She vows to appeal at a future hearing.

Closer inspection of Gonzalez, her statements and motives is necessary. In a reversal of the Legally Blonde 2 theme, the assemblywoman isn't just making purely partisan moves to aid the scandal-scarred Irvine Democrats. She's also toiling for one of her campaign contributors that wants to converts its substantial political influence into a taxpayer-funded favor of auditing the audit: Gafcon, Inc. The San Diego-based firm is allied with Agran and grabbed a $13.5 million consulting deal at the park.

Keep in mind that firms taking massive government contracts must contractually agree to being audited. That makes sense. The public has a right to know of abuses of its money.

In part, the park audit revealed that Gafcon had an undisclosed, "conflict of interest," side deal with Agran's most favored Newport Beach political operatives at Forde & Mollrich, the ones that grabbed an outrageous $100,000 a month, no-bid, no-benchmark deal to perform public relations for a government park that wasn't close to completion.

Gafcon officials vehemently dispute they did anything wrong. They've protested the city council during public forums. They've written hostile letters. They garnered newspaper coverage. They've created a special website. They've made political contributions. They've won fluffy TV news coverage. They produced a movie about their saintliness. And, of course, they've enlisted Gonzalez. The assemblywoman, a past labor union official, told JLAC that the company hasn't been able to defend itself from the "misabuse (sic) of power" by Irvine ordering a park audit.

"It was allegations being made without any ability [of Gafcon] to respond and I think when a city acts in such a way that a business feels like they can no longer conduct business because they've been put in a position that doesn't even allow them to compete anymore because of the power that a city has in misappropriating their power," she asserted without providing even anecdotal evidence Gafcon--a company with significant projects throughout Southern California--can't function.

Nonetheless, the company must be rescued by the politicians in Sacramento, she insists.

"The only recourse [for Gafcon] is the state," Gonzalez continued. "And so that's why I think this audit is so important for us as state legislators. We do oversee cities. We have a responsibility, um, that we don't let things go awry."

Let's return to reality. The audit was a necessary public service. Indeed, the situation would have truly gone awry if the council had ignored angry public demands for an accounting of how their local government spent $250 million on a park with very little to show for the expenditures.

Asked by a member of JLAC what she hoped a state audit of the city audit would determine, Gonzalez said she wants to know if the audit's release was designed to impact an election. What a hoot.

We don't need Columbo to solve that fake mystery. Voters booted Agran from power last November, leaving Krom as the lone Democrat on the council. The audit--the one Agran purposely stalled for months--wasn't released until March--four months after residents went to the polls.

Back to fantasyland. When Gonzalez, a lawyer, ultimately gets her wish, California State Auditor Elaine M. Howle will have to divert resources from important probes involving, for example, welfare fraud, public utility shenanigans and lousy veterans affairs programs. Howle told JLAC members she is presently clueless if there is a shred of evidence warranting an audit. She'd said she'd have to send staffers down to Irvine for "a couple of weeks" to know.

"It's an unusual request," she declared.

During Legally Blonde 2, a character asked Woods, "You're the girl with the perfumed poo-poo bags, aren't you?"

She replied, "Actually, I'm the woman with the scented [dog] waste receptacles, but yes."

Here, Gonzalez's sweet sounding, empty talking points can't mask that her Sacramento maneuverings stink.

Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

Email: rscottmoxley@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @RScottMoxley.


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >