“Um, yeah, that's not gonna work for me.”
The city of Irvine is paying a private company at least $400 million to design the Great Park. It has set aside $9 million for city staff and an independent company to check the Great Park Design Studio's plans to make sure they more quickly clear future city design reviews. Now the City Council will be asked to dole out another $1.9 million to compensate the program manager, Bovis Lend Lease, for essentially looking over the shoulders of designers in real time.
That's on top of the $2 million the city is already paying Bovis.
The Great Park Corp. board, which includes all five City Council members, voted 6-1 today to recommend the council approve “an enhanced scope of work” for Bovis, as well as more to compensate city staff-created feasibility studies and work schedules for the first Great Park features … to come, well, who the hell knows?
Board member and Councilman Steven Choi was the sole dissenter. Two board members were absent.
Bovis was originally hired by the city to review Great Park Design Studio work as it reached the 70 percent design completion “milestone.” The report Bovis produced out of that indicated the Great Park would cost $377 million more to build than previously budgeted, that groundwater contamination under the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station was not adequately being addressed and that park officials were setting the stage for a “catastrophic” impact on the park’s budget by not identifying who would be responsible for infrastructure projects shared by the city and Lennar Corp., the developer of land ringing the future park whose $200 million development fee and promised other building fees along the way are supposedly what will make the Great Park a Great Reality.
A reflection of the heat they are enduring from the public and the press, board and staff members referred to the Bovis report today as a “first draft” and an “internal document” not meant for public consumption. However, the city's public works director, Glen Worthington, did finally concede the disputed version was not much different from Bovis' final report.
At the board's direction three months ago, Bovis was asked to do the closer review work. A recommendation to pay for that work had been included on the board's September agenda, but then-new Great Park CEO Michael Ellzey asked for the matter to be postponed. In the ensuing months, the staff managed to re-think the proposal and shave the amount that was going to be recommended for Bovis' extra work from $2.6 million to $1.9 million, Worthington said. Keep in mind Bovis was already doing this work while the amount was being cooked up–and down.
Choi and board member Christina Shea, who is also an Irvine council member, certainly kept that in mind. Unlike the other members of the board appointed to protect the public's trust, they asked chicken-before-the-egg questions of Worthington to determine if Bovis got the greenlight to do extra work that the board and council were now essentially being backed into a corner to compensate them for. Worthington said he would not characterize it that way—and neither did the other board members, publicly anyway. No, they all took a business-as-usual attitude.
Shea, who like Choi opposed the original agreement with Bovis, said she felt “stifled” by the three-minute chunks board chairman and Irvine Councilman Larry Agran gave her to ask questions about the unusual deal. Clearly frustrated, Shea finally said she would go along with staff's recommendation to add nearly $2 million to the $9 million it is already doling out to check over design plans because, based on the presentation she heard, this has devolved into a competence issue over the Great Park Design Studio's work to date. “I, sadly, think it is not a good thing,” she said. “But if we have to have it to have greater oversight, I will reluctantly vote for this.”
Board member Bill Kogerman took issue with that characterization. By then, board member and Councilwoman Beth Krom had already taken stealth aim at Shea. Reading word-for-word from an Irvine World News preview of the board's Bovis action, Krom alleged it was based on “misrepresentations” and an “internal” Bovis report that had been “recast by people on this dais to the press.” (The writer of the piece, the Register's Sean Emery, was there to defend himself, but Shea did it for him: “There has been no misrepresentation at all. The press representation was very accurate.”)
Agran, with a twinkle in his eye as he frequently cut off an inquisitive Shea, said “in an election year, everything gets presented in cartoonish ways.” He characterized the problems Bovis identified in print and over designers' shoulders as the “chaos” one routinely finds in the early stages of revolutionary works. And he vowed the huge investment the city is making now in a “world-class, schematic design” will pay dividends in the end. “Can we put it on eBay and sell it for $40 million? No,” Agran said. “But it will be worth much, much more.”