The Great Park Is Coming Back

On Dec. 12, the Irvine City Council—with Larry Agran once again sitting as mayor—will end the divisive politics that plagued the council before the Nov. 7 election and reassert the city's No. 1 priority: burying the county's hated El Toro International Airport beneath a thousand-acre Great Park.

“The first item on the agenda will be to rescind the Musick jail agreement,” said Agran, speaking of the plan developed by Sheriff Mike Carona and the city councils of Lake Forest and Irvine to add 4,600 beds to the jail during the next 15 years. “That will be over quickly, and the next item will be the El Toro matter.”

Shortly before Election Day, with then-Councilman Agran and former Mayor Christina Shea out of town, the three remaining council members voted to end city planning of the Great Park. They claimed a city study showed the park was financially unworkable. In fact, the move was a blatant attempt to remove the engine of Agran's mayoral campaign. It failed. Agran ran unopposed and succeeded in getting two allies on the council—Chris Mears and Beth Krom.

Now, Agran says he and his new council majority will repair the damage inflicted before Nov. 7. “We'll reaffirm the city's previous policy of going forward full speed ahead,” said Agran. “We will give people confidence that we intend to achieve this during the next two to four years.”

First elected to the City Council in 1978, Agran was derided by local conservatives as Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda's man in Irvine. They attacked his slow-growth politics, his liberal views and even his Jewish background. He was the subject of bitter, sometimes weekly attacks by editorial staff at The Orange County Register. His name raised money for the Right the way Bob Dornan's did for the Left. None of it mattered: within four years, Agran was sitting in the council's center seat as mayor.

He would remain there throughout the Reagan years, bringing about such innovations as a curbside recycling program and a citywide ban on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)—both revolutionary for their time and both mimicked nationwide today. But his successful fights to permanently preserve open space and extend civil rights to gays and lesbians in the city produced the first effective anti-Agran coalition in 1990, when right-wing conservatives backed by the Irvine Co. finally defeated him.

Now Agran is returning to the mayor's chair after being re-elected to the City Council in 1998. With the city already spending $5 million per year studying and promoting the Great Park, Agran wants to step up the pressure. He foresees a ballot campaign in the spring or fall of 2002 to finally repeal Measure A—something anti-airport forces failed to do back in 1996. The destruction of Measure A would also destroy the legal mandate that has so far driven the county's airport plans.

By then, Agran is confident that Irvine —with its fully developed park plan—will become the lead planning agency for the El Toro base. That, he says, will represent the final burial of the airport under the grass of the Great Park.

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