O.C. grand jury report calls for new Great Park development plan


The city of Irvine’s stewardship of the Great Park should include a comprehensive 10-year plan for strategic development, construction and funding feasibility, according to the most recent Orange County grand jury investigation into the project’s management.

The report, released Tuesday, is titled “‘Irvine’ Great Park: A Legacy of Hubris” and is the third grand jury investigation of Great Park procedures and operations since the project started more than a decade ago. The report of the first investigation, released in 2006, criticized Irvine officials’ lack of transparency in taking control of the project. The second report, issued in 2010, questioned the project’s financing structure.

With about $250 million in expenditures so far and little of the planned 1,347-acre park completed, the project has been the subject of residents’ discontent and a two-year city audit. The 2014-15 grand jury study was undertaken as an “objective investigation to inform the public as to where the money went, the current status of the park and plans for the future,” the new report states.

Several findings in the report echo those in the Great Park audit released in March. “From the outset, the project was poorly managed and did not follow conventional principles,” the grand jury states. “There was excessive political control, influence and interference.”

On the subject of questionable spending, the report states, “There seemingly was no effective oversight over invoices, contract compliance or quality control.”

The grand jury offered no specific indication of criminal wrongdoing. The audit report compelled the Irvine City Council to authorize an investigation for potential legal action to recover any money paid to contractors involved in professional negligence, false claims or conflicts of interest.

“I think the (grand jury) findings show the disturbing pattern of gross financial mismanagement the project was under,” said Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Lalloway. “There needs to be further correcting of mistakes that were made and a certainty that anything like this will never happen again.”

In addition to the 10-year plan, the report’s recommendations for Irvine include:

• Seriously consider dissolving the nonprofit Orange County Great Park Corp., “as it serves no intrinsic purpose.”

• Discontinue “extravagant expenditures” in favor of more “cost conscious” public events. As an example, the report states the city should consider grounding the Great Park’s orange balloon ride, which costs more than $1 million per year to operate.

• Present all the funds related to Great Park financial activity as a separate section in the city’s annual financial reports to provide greater transparency.

• Consider adopting an ordinance that would limit interference and influence of City Council members with operational aspects of the city.

• Restrict the use of sole-source and no-bid contracts.

• Account for $43 million in tax breaks that Irvine received after the city annexed the park property in 2005.

The grand jury has no power to enforce any of its recommendations, but Irvine is required to file a formal response to the findings and recommendations to the presiding Superior Court judge within 90 days.