Irvine council debates, then mostly sides with grand jury on Great Park report

In a formal response to an Orange County Superior Court judge, the city of Irvine mostly agrees with the findings and recommendations of the grand jury report “Irvine Great Park: Legacy of Hubris?” released June 30.

With only three exceptions, City Council members agreed wholly or in part with the 14 findings and eight recommendations but there was some heated debate on some of the issues.

City Manager Sean Joyce and his staff were charged with drafting the recommended responses to be submitted in an official letter to Superior Court Judge Glenda Sanders. Options of agree, disagree, or further consideration were offered by staff for council consideration.

With the Great Park audit itself now under scrutiny by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee in Sacramento, Assemblyman Don Wagner (R-Irvine) and former assemblyman and state Sen. Dick Wagner both attended the meeting. Each voiced support for the audit findings and the current Republican council majority during public comments.

“I saw both an audit and a grand jury report that essentially say the same things and essentially confirms, in my mind, that there has been some problem and there has been some mismanagement,” Wagner said afterward.

Councilwoman Beth Krom, the only Democrat among a 4-1 Republican council majority, used her time in discussion to continue disputing the legitimacy of the audit and the grand jury report before ultimately excusing herself from the dais.

“I think it’s hubris on the part of the grand jury to essentially take information that was in the audit, which was largely what they cite and attribute it to Aleshire & Wynder (the legal firm hired to conduct major portions of the Great Park audit),” Krom said.

Councilwoman Christina Shea responded to Krom’s remarks saying, “We can sit here and say it’s all political, people are being personally attacked because oh, they’re really nice, they did nothing wrong. Those just aren’t the facts. We can argue in circles trying to make a statement that nothing bad happened, but $250 million is gone and we don’t have much to (show) for it.”

When the council got around to debating the grand jury responses, the most passionate disagreement occurred between Joyce and Mayor Steven Choi.

One finding the grand jury submitted was that “an inordinate amount of funds” was spent on public relations, free events, and the Great Park balloon. Choi objected strongly to the staff-recommended response stating only partial agreement with the finding.

“That should say ‘agree,’” Choi said loudly. Joyce responded that the recommendation for partial agreement protects the current council from some of the broad implications of the excess spending referred to in the report. Choi eventually won the argument emphasizing the word “inordinate” applied by the grand jury.

Shea, the chairwoman of the Great Park Board, resisted the recommendation that the city consider dissolving the board. Shea argued there are city regulations that may conflict with decisions made by the board as it applies to corporate participation in park development.

Councilwoman Lynn Schott stated her view that the board should be dissolved, calling it redundant, as it consists of the same members of the City Council only in a different configuration.

Ultimately the remaining council members voted 3-0 approving the responses with stipulation that the dissolution of the board needed further analysis. Krom left the proceedings before the vote and Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Lalloway was absent from the meeting.