Irvine council clashes on routine items

Although typically considered routine, the consent calendar contained three items that caused a hubbub at Irvine's City Council meeting Tuesday.

Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Lalloway voiced his lack of support for creating a plaque honoring Planning Commissioner Mary Ann Gaido.

"I believe it's bad policy to establish a recognition plaque," he said. "I have nothing personal against Mrs. Gaido — she's a nice lady — but I think we have a wall of recognition designed specifically for this purpose."

He also said it is not good practice to commemorate a current city official.

The acknowledgment is intended to thank Gaido for her contributions to the city, which include pioneering open-space preservation efforts.

Councilwoman Beth Krom questioned Lalloway's voting record, pointing out that he had supported the motion when the council unanimously approved it last year. She also said that while Irvine is in possession of 16,000 acres of open space, Gaido is the one who got the ball rolling in 1981 by shaping city policies.

"We have many different ways that we recognize people in this community," she said, listing Clarence Nedom, Ethel Coplen and Judge David Sills as previous examples. "This seems to me a very reasonable recommendation."

Taking the microphone for the second time, Lalloway said the council had not approved the action in November, only asked city staff to investigate the matter and provide additional information for review.

"I try to personally be pretty relaxed about these matters," Councilman Larry Agran chimed in, adding that he had no objection to such initiatives so long as the stipulated venue was "appropriate" and the costs "modest."

The council voted 3 to 2, with Mayor Steven Choi and Lalloway dissenting.


Solar Decathlon and XPO

Lalloway also took to task a team representing the Great Park that expressed the need for event production and management services for the Solar Decathlon and XPO.

The council voted 5 to 0 to bring Flying Bull Inc. on board, in addition to Utopia Entertainment Inc., which is responsible for project management.

Upon Lalloway's request to differentiate between the two positions, Great Park Deputy Chief Executive Cliff Wallace said Utopia would serve as the "overarching manager of the entire project," while the staff-suggested Flying Bull, which has previously provided consultant services to the Great Park, would come in with "boots on the ground."

"These are the people who will be ... entering into the service contracts, the vendor contracts, and will be on the site for the duration of the entire event from tomorrow forward and the 34 days of the event," he said.

Lalloway, the Great Park board chairman, expressed chagrin over being left out when the request for proposal was circulated in late March. Flying Bull's management fee exceeds $324,000, and Lalloway said he has heard no explanation of what makes the company uniquely capable for the job over others that applied, such as James Event Productions and Utopia.

According to Wallace, Flying Bull has 15 months of relevant experience that includes working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and interacting with the 20 collegiate teams during their January visit. Its team is also the only one with a member who has attended a past solar decathlon, he said.

"In, I think it was either January or February, I asked the CEO what he needed from this council to put on a successful solar decathlon, and he said, 'All I need is a project manager,' and he went out to bid for that," Lalloway said.

Claiming to be stuck between "a rock and a hard place," Lalloway said the group's transparency is disconcerting.

"I'm also very concerned about these staff reports that are basically advocacy documents," he said. "I just don't like the way things are done here."


Northwood Community Park

Moving on to what he called the "Northwood experience," Lalloway cast the sole dissenting vote against giving the community park expansion a single additional dollar. Eventually, the project landed $130,866 after some haggling.

A staff report said the project needed $265,866, including $96,271 for change orders, which were previously approved but remain unpaid, $34,595 in city staff construction management, and a $135,000 contingency fund.

This was down from the $500,000 budget requested April 9.

Lalloway refused to dole out more cash at least until June 11, when the city attorney's investigation into the project's management and how the money is being spent concludes.

Upon learning from Director of Public Works Manuel Gomez that city staff had traditionally approved change orders on public works projects without first approaching the council for permission, Lalloway termed it a "very unfortunate situation."

"If that is the policy, that is a dangerous policy not to have City Council approve change orders, and I hope that will be addressed in the future," he said.

Regarding the requested contingency amount, Lalloway also said he was uneasy handing the staff resources to use as they pleased.

"I have very little confidence that this project is being completed in a cost-efficient manner," he said.

Councilwoman Christina Shea requested that, going forward, staff return to the council for approval on each item so the community center renovation could be monitored.

"My big concern is that I just don't want to get into a position where, again, the contractor walks off and the project stops," she said. "I think we want to get it done; we just want to do it in the right way."

She proposed granting the money for the change orders and city staff construction management, but not the contingency fund, which the council could discuss as needed.

Asserting that the council had not "messed up," Lalloway said, "[The Northwood Community Center] has been closed for 13 months and now we're basically held hostage that if we don't approve [the money,] it won't be opened."

He also said that no one was able to nail down the costs associated with stopping the project and then re-starting it later in the summer, with or without the current contractor.

"As a matter of policy, I don't think putting up a big sign on one of our community parks, where people have been very patient and we have struggled with this project for a long time... saying it's not our fault is not really what the City Council ought to be saying," Agran said.

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