Larry, We Hardly Knew Ye

The OC Metro is so, well, fuck the Metro—you know?—except for the March 6 issue with Irvine Co. boss Don Bren’s aging mug and dark, soulless eyes on the cover. That one contained something of interest.

Not about Bren, of course—despite an exclusive interview, the rambling cover story contained no new revelations about the wealthiest and most power-hungry developer in Orange County.

But the story did include some very illuminating quotes from Irvine Mayor Larry Agran. The statements show in nauseating detail how Bren’s most vocal and powerful opponent has in recent years become his most valuable toady.

“I think Bren really does think of himself as an artist painting this vast mural that is the Irvine Ranch,” Agran, once Bren’s most vocal opponent, is quoted as saying. “He is a very good planner and sets very high standards. He has a good eye; just look around Irvine at the built environment.”

During the 1980s, Agran and Bren met the way a mongoose meets a cobra. Agran, the fierce slow-growth champion, often challenged the far more formidable Bren—the art-loving recluse empire builder. Agran routinely threatened Bren’s projects, held up his permits, even called the most powerful Orange County developer “thugs” who told “out and out lies.” For its part, the Irvine Co. called Agran “lunarly” and “evil.”

Then in 1990, Irvine Co.-funded opponents booted Agran out of power. When Agran returned to office eight years later, his environmental politics didn’t come with him.

“The big change in my relationship with Mr. Bren and the Irvine Co. came when I returned as mayor in 1998,” Agran told the Metro. “[A]nd by this time the Open Space Agreement was in place, had worked well and was being honored by both sides.”

Actually, Agran returned to the Irvine City Council in 1998 and didn’t return to the mayor’s chair until 2000. As for the Open Space Agreement, while it’s true the landmark deal between the city and the Irvine Co. preserved thousands of acres of land, it was never meant to be the end-all to slow-growth activism lately portrayed by Agran.

In fact, the agreement didn’t deal at all with future development of the so-called Northern Sphere—the 7,000-plus acres along the northern border of the El Toro Marine Corps base. The Irvine Co. plans to develop virtually all the land, which will add an astonishing 35,000 residents to Irvine.

You’d guess all that building keeps Bren busy, but Agran says no. “Now it seems like 80 percent of the energy and focus of the meetings with Mr. Bren is on open space,” he told the Metro.

So who’s handling the Irvine Co.’s hectic construction schedule? That would seem to be Agran. “In the ’80s, my focus was on open space,” he said. “Today, I have shifted to overseeing the buildout of the city.”

And environmentalists weep.

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