Twelve years ago, Larry Agran, Irvine's career politician and mayor who'd never built anything, issued bold statements about his ability to build a "world-class" government park at the mothballed Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, and people, especially journalists, believed him.
"Move over, Manhattan," wrote an excited Christian Science Monitor reporter in April 2003. "Stand aside San Francisco. In Orange County, the final hurdle has been cleared for a 'county great park' that will exceed the size of Central Park and Golden Gate Park put together."
The reporter–who didn't know the mayor and his political scheming actually would be the final hurdles–went on to echo the mayor's oral machinations, declaring that "the area is considered America's leading laboratory of 'post suburbia' . . . "
Agran also provided the money quote, "We are finally moving forward with a plan that will transform the future of Orange County."
In pure Agranista form, the paper unquestioningly repeated his biggest lie in the title to a chapter in the article: "No cost to citizens."
Add you own exclamation point!
Those of us who for 12 years closely watched Agran and his Democratic political machine operate dictatorial control over the project didn't fall for the empty hype. Their operatives received lucrative, no-bid contracts for a public park that didn't yet exist. They wasted nearly $50 million on a park design plan that was laughably unattainable–a huge, man-made canyon and waterfalls!–the moment it landed on paper. Paranoid of being caught in various scandals, they treated park records with NSA-type secrecy. Agran conducted park spending business through his wife's private email account. Despite claiming otherwise, they planned to use a special tax scheme to boost park coffers until Gov. Jerry Brown killed such tactics. They ran fake Republican candidates to dilute their opponents' election strength. After years and years of spending several hundred million dollars without building a single, major promised feature, the Agran alliance finally lost power in 2012.
What happened? Agran and Beth Krom, his robotic sidekick, blame the economy on their wild spending spree that emptied park coffers. Nobody but the pair's Kool-Aid drinkers ever bought that falsehood.
As Orange County residents awaken today, they don't have to guess how the Great Park became the Great Debacle under Agran's watch. Late yesterday, David J. Aleshire and Anthony R. Taylor, well-respected attorneys at Aleshire & Wynder, issued their final "Great Park Audit" report that begins by noting how Agran misled the public from the outset about the project's costs. According to the audit, he voiced "a fiction" that the park could be built for about $400 million when he'd already been told the cost would be $600 million more for a real price tag of $1 billion. Two years later with the Agran alliance designing a plan to divert more than $167,000 a month to their political operatives for alleged public relations, the proposal's cost jumped to $1.6 billion.
As one of Agran's supporters recently barked at the city's current Republican majority in irony-denying defense of his hero, "A million here. A million there and pretty soon we're talking big money."
The audit pounces on the claim that external forces caused the Great Park mess.
"The Master Plan was killed not by the recession or the loss of the redevelopment funding, it was killed by its own hubris, the failure to engage in a honest dialogue about how it could be funded, and failure to keep the consultants operating with any sort of affordable budget," Aleshire and Taylor concluded.
Their digging discovered that Agran's Irvine government spent $250 million while claiming they'd spent less than $200 million "to develop a 1,347-acre park and ended up with only 88 acres (6.5%) developed for recreational purposes."
The report also outlines conflicts of interests, secret maneuvers, cronyism and various forms of gross mismanagement.
Last night, a defensive Agran told a reporter that the real villains are the auditors. Why? You can't make this up: Their numbers are, he insists, wrong.
Tonight, the city council could consider whether to seek a court-ordered demand that Agran, who voters booted from the panel last November, answer questions about the relationship between his handpicked Great Park consultants and contributions to his political campaigns. He claims the U.S. Constitution entitles him to secrecy about the transactions. Aleshire and Taylor hold a contrary view.