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Orange County's Unrealized 'Great Park'

Tony Barboza discusses how the disappearance of expected funding has dimmed the City of Irvine's vision for turning the decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station El Toro into "the first great metropolitan park of the 21st century."
October 31, 2012, 10am PDT | Jessica Hsu
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"The Great Park that exists today doesn't look anything like the colorful city brochures that landed in mailboxes years ago, promising to go 'From Groundbreaking to Great Park in only 5 years'," writes Barboza. Plans for the park included cultural centers, botanical gardens, sports fields, and museums to rival New York's Central Park, but after 10 years only 200 acres of the proposed 1,347-acre park in Orange County have been built.

The first calamity to befall project struck when the developer FivePoint Communities Inc. "halted its plans for building the thousands of homes that were supposed to surround the park and generate tax money to fuel its growth," and then "the state - in an effort to trim California's ballooning deficit - grabbed the projects main funding source: $1.4 billion in property tax funds." Most of the available funding had already been directed towards planning and designing the park, rather than actual construction.

"We had to invest a lot to let people know there's a park coming," Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang said to explain the spending. However, many "have called the spending on plans and no-bid contracts reckless and suggested the money could have been put to better use." Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway commented that he was "saddened by a potentially wonderful project that has been financially mismanaged."

"Critics, who have long questioned the project's fiscal discipline, doubt Orange County will ever get the park that was promised," but city records show that the fraction of the promised park that's been completed is already a popular destination. Last year, "visitors poured in to attend hundreds of events, including sports clinics, concerts, farmers markets, festivals and circus acts.

Barboza states that Irvine leaders will need "to contemplate radical measures: Selling off public land to raise funds or asking private business to step in and build the park for them," if the project is to continue.

Editor's Note: This post has been revised to include a response to the original Los Angeles Times article by Beth Krom, chair of the Orange County Great Park Corp. board of directors and mayor pro tem of Irvine. Says Krom, "In its Oct. 27 article, 'Orange County's planned Great Park a victim of hard times,' The Times paints a misleading picture by neglecting to provide adequate history and context. The truth is the Great Park in Irvine is not just moving forward. We are heading into our best year yet."

Full Story:
Published on Saturday, October 27, 2012 in Los Angeles Times
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