The Great Farce

The Irvine City Council resembles the county Board of Supervisors a lot more than members of either panel might want to admit. Both have five members. Both have one member who is a complete moron. Both have just one member who believes in penetrating questions and simple accountability. Both approve nearly every development permit that comes before them. And as recent events show, both are working very hard to put an international airport at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

Concerning the last note, the biggest offender is clearly the Irvine City Council. Everyone in the county already knows that three of the five supes would personally fly the first commercial airliner into El Toro if they could. But it's the Irvine City Council, with its empty, vacillating rhetoric about replacing the hated airport with a Great Park, that poses the most danger.

All year, the Irvine City Council made a great show about how the vast majority of the public supported turning most of the El Toro base into an urban public park. The council voted 5-0 last spring to spend $4 million on Great Park-related items, including $2.5 million on Great Park mailings to the entire county.

“Within a year,” powerful city-paid consultant Arnold Forde told me in the spring, “everyone in the county will have a feeling about what's going on.”

No one can say Forde was exaggerating. On Oct. 24, those “die-hard” anti-airport activists on the council voted 3-0 (Larry Agran and Mayor Christina Shea were absent) to kill the Great Park. They did this—ostensibly—because they had determined that the city couldn't afford to pay for park upkeep and that it would be better for all concerned if Sacramento put a state park on the site.

This is bullshit. For months, the entire city council has been actively promoting itself as the best manager of any future park at El Toro. It thus comes as no surprise that the offending councilmen who voted to trash the Great Park—Mike Ward, who never met an Irvine Co. proposal he didn't like; Greg Smith, who's endorsed by both the right-wing Lincoln Club and the Building Industry Association; and Dave Christensen, who's currently facing a seven-count conflict-of-interest investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission—had no studies or reports to back up their contention that the park was prohibitively expensive.

A Review of Potential Revenue Sources for Funding the Millennium Phase Three Master Plan, the only study on the subject, states that park funding is easily accessible to the city. The council tried to dismiss that $60,000 city-sponsored study by calling it “unfinished” and burying it. Agran negated that move by releasing the report—which clearly says “Final Report” on the cover—on his own.

For his act of giving city residents what they paid for, Agran drew formal censure from the rest of the council. In addition to blatant star-chamber arrogance, his colleagues were also being grossly hypocritical: for years, the city of Irvine has called for the county to release “draft” versions of its airport studies.

Clearly, the council couldn't care less about the park—not with crazy, pro-accountability Larry Agran roaming loose through the halls of city government. Agran, who is running unopposed for mayor, boosts the park every chance he gets; taking it away from him potentially guts his slate of candidates, who are campaigning both for the Great Park and the council seats held by Ward and Christensen, as well as the one being vacated by Agran.

Clearly, to Ward and Christensen, remaining on the council is more important than fighting the proposed El Toro International Airport. Why else would campaign literature for Councilman Mike Ward denounce Agran and his slate for promoting El Toro as a “homeless destination point”?

The city's own surveys show that 90 percent of Irvine's residents support the Great Park. It will be interesting to see what those residents do now that they know who killed it.

—Anthony Pignataro

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