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Irvine Council Votes to Run O.C. Great Park

Times Staff Writer

A divided Irvine City Council voted late Tuesday to keep control of the development and operation of the Orange County Great Park rather than hand the authority to an independent panel.

After nearly three hours of debate, the council voted 3 to 2 to relegate the Orange County Great Park Corp. -- created in 2003 to run the proposed urban refuge -- to an advisory role.

The change means the city alone will control the park’s 1,347 acres in the heart of Orange County and decide how to spend $380 million in developer fees and assessments earmarked for the park.

Voting in favor were Mayor Beth Krom and council members Larry Agran and Sukhee Kang. They said the board’s advisory role recognized the city’s ultimate responsibility for building the park, which evolved after Orange County voters in 2002 killed plans for an international airport at the former El Toro Marine base.

Opposing the move were council members Christina Shea and Stephen Choi. They said Irvine officials had promised Orange County residents that the park would be governed by an independent board to which the city would lease the land and provide the money for development.

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Kang said the move to better define the corporation’s role and the city’s authority “is clearly reinforcing our commitment and our promise to the public.”

Agran said he would never agree to give up final authority over the park’s acreage or funding. “It’s the city of Irvine taxpayer money,” he said. “It’s not money from someone who lives in Fullerton or Mission Viejo.”

But opponents disagreed. Choi said Agran repeatedly pledged that the park board would be separate from the city and have authority to develop and operate the park. Choi recalled that Agran and other city officials had insisted that a separate entity was needed to protect Irvine taxpayers from cost overruns. “I’m being told this is simply a clarification, but this is a great departure from the original intent,” Choi said.

Agran and Krom denied Tuesday that the operating agreement was ever formally considered by the park board, even though minutes of a June 23 meeting -- with both in attendance -- show a detailed discussion of it. The board voted on other occasions to spend $44,000 on attorney fees to draft it.

Agran said the only way he would approve the park going forward was with the City Council in control.


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