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Great Park consulting firm seeks apology from Irvine

Volunteers organize pieces of the concrete of the runways that were given away as mementos during the ceremonial breaking of the concrete runways as the El Toro base was prepared to become the Great Park.
(Don Leach, Daily Pilot)

A consulting firm battered by allegations of cronyism and inefficiency in reviews of Irvine’s $200-million effort to develop the Orange County Great Park has asked a state agency to force the city to apologize, claiming that it damaged the company’s reputation.

The planned park was intended to replace the retired El Toro Marine base with an enormous expanse of open space, forested land and meandering pathways, but some city leaders have said that too much money has been spent and too little actual construction completed.

A developer has since agreed to build an initial portion of the park in exchange for the right to construct thousands of additional houses around its edge, and a new City Council majority voted to commission a forensic audit to look into where the money went.

Meanwhile, longtime park proponents have decried the ongoing audit as a political witch hunt.

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In a complaint filed this week with the California Board of Accountancy, San Diego-based consultant Gafcon alleges that the audit, performed by accounting firm Hagen, Streiff, Newton & Oshiro, contained false information about the company’s work managing the Great Park Design Studio, the entity responsible for executing the park design.

“The deceptive allegations and misleading half-truths contained in the preliminary report have damaged our company and our valued employees,” Gafcon general counsel Paul Najar said in a statement.

Hagen, Streiff, Newton and Oshiro has been irresponsible in compiling its reports, the complaint adds.

But although the complaint formally accuses the accounting firm — which is licensed by the California Board of Accountancy — of misconduct, the complaint also demands that Irvine issue “an immediate and public exoneration of all the unsubstantiated allegations … as well as an apology to Gafcon Inc.”

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A spokeswoman for the agency said the board had received the complaint and could not comment specifically on an ongoing investigation.

However, said spokeswoman Lauren Hersh, “I can’t see that we would at all be involved in telling the city of Irvine what it needs to do.”

The California Board of Accountancy routinely investigates complaints about certified public accountant licensees, handling 3,094 in the 2012-13 fiscal year, Hersh said.

The cases are varied, she said, with the most serious resulting in the revocation of a firm’s or accountant’s license. The agency can also refer cases to the attorney general’s office for review of possible criminal action.

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The city and Hagen, Streiff, Newton and Oshiro did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

At a recent City Council meeting in which audit attorneys working with the accounting firm presented a update on the status of the audit, Najar asked council members to watch Gafcon’s video rebuttal to allegations that the firm may have been overpaid for its work. Gafcon has long maintained that its work was done “on time and under budget.”

Councilwoman Christina Shea argued that clips of past council meetings included in those videos were taken out of context and proved nothing.

The full audit is expected to be complete late this year.

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jill.cowan@latimes.com


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