Great Park's Million-Dollar PR Firm May Get Canned

New majority on Irvine's City Council also plans to audit finances of the largely unbuilt park. Where did the $220 million go?

The Irvine City Council will consider a proposal to dump the Orange County Great Park's lobbying and public relations firms and shrink its board of directors from nine to five members.

The move drew fire from current Great Park Chairwoman Beth Krom, who said the council's new majority was engineering a "coup" to seize control of the Great Park. The council has a 3-2 split with three council members also favoring an audit of the Great Park's finances.

On Tuesday, the council will consider dumping the public relations agency Forde & Mollrich and the park's lobbyist, Townsend Public Affairs.

The council agenda also includes a proposed audit of the Great Park's finances and removing Krom as chairwoman of the board of directors. If the council removes Krom, a special meeting will be held Thursday morning to choose a new chair.

Krom wants to retain the public relations firm and lobbyist. "They are both integral to the work we're doing," Krom said, adding it could take three to five months to hire new firms.

Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lalloway said it's unnecessary to hire a new public relations firm because the city has more than a dozen people on staff who can handle the same duties.

The Great Park is billed about $200,000 annually for the lobbyist and about $900,000 for PR, plus expenses, Lalloway said, adding that he is disappointed in the Great Park's progress.

The Great Park was originally envisioned to be like another Central Park in Manhattan, with financing coming from a development deal with the Lennar company. That fell through when the economy collapsed in 2008.

The park's plans suffered another major setback when the Legislature in 2011 eliminated redevelopment agencies.

In May, a Sacramento Superior Court judge rejected a request for a temporary restraining order to prohibit the state from diverting millions of dollars in property tax revenue from the Great Park, which lost up to $3 million for this fiscal year and up to $1.4 billion over the life of the project.

The property has been the subject of much political turmoil since the El Toro Marine Corps air station was closed in 1999. It set up multiple battles between proponents of a private airport at the site and the property's neighbors, who largely opposed an airport and ultimately prevailed.

"We need to stop talking about building a great park and start actually working on building the great park," Lalloway said.

Both sides agree they want to achieve the original vision for the Great Park. The dispute is over how to get that done.

If the dispute drags on, Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who supports Lalloway's side, said the county ought to try to get the park back.

Spitzer commented on the dispute during his remarks after he was sworn in to office Monday.

"I've always been 100 percent supportive of the vision of the Great Park," Spitzer said. "However, it's been more than a decade and $220 million in expenditures and there's very little to show for it.

"And, so, I'm going to support the new majority of this council to come forward with a plan to develop the Great Park. If they're  not able to do more than the prior council than we're going to have a serious discussion whether we should do an initiative ... Should it be a county park? Should the county take it over?"

Spitzer said county supervisors voted to let Irvine annex the property and voters could possibly choose to take it back, Spitzer said.

Lalloway doubted that could happen.

"It's city of Irvine property," Lalloway said. "The voters can't vote to take it away from us."

-- City News Service

Homer January 09, 2013 at 01:07 AM
This may have been a great reality television show. Unless...
El Toro Resident January 10, 2013 at 12:38 AM
Just give it back to the Marine Corps


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