Irvine City Council Has a New Vibe

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Monday, February 14, 2011 | On the surface, last year’s election did nothing to change the dynamic on Irvine City Council. Democrats came out of the election with the same 3-2 advantage that they had going in.

But looks can be deceiving.

For the better part of the last decade, the council was characterized by an ever-escalating battle between Democratic Councilman Larry Agran and Republican Christina Shea that had long ago crossed the line from typical partisan squabbling to a vitriolic political death match.

Now, with Republican Jeff Lalloway replacing a termed-out Shea, that toxic atmosphere has seemingly evaporated. Lalloway and Agran are working closely toward a common goal: fighting Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to dismantle redevelopment agencies statewide, which would destroy a vital revenue stream to the city’s Great Park.

In fact, Lalloway and Agran sit together on a subcommittee with the aim of saving the agency, a working Republican-Democrat relationship that just months ago would have seemed impossible.

The two have already appeared together at a news conference sponsored by a coalition of groups with the aim of saving redevelopment agencies.

“So far we’ve found common ground, and the first area of common ground is building the Great Park,” Lalloway said.

But is this new-found camaraderie in Irvine here to stay, or just a temporary enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my friend dynamic? It’s too early to tell, say the duo’s colleagues and other Irvine political watchers.

Councilman Steven Choi, who used to side with Shea in the many battles over the years, noted that since Lalloway arrived there just haven’t been any classic wedge issues that would pit the council’s Democrats and Republicans against each other.

“To me it is, kinda unfair and premature to try and assess, in this particular case, how Jeff will be effective in raising opposition, because we have not faced anything like that,” Choi said.

At least one Irvine Republican, GOP Central Committee member and party critic Allan Bartlett,  says that while he he is confident that Lalloway will engage in the good fight when the time comes, he is suspicious of Lalloway working closely with Agran.

“I have a healthy dose of suspicion and skepticism, but I haven’t made up my mind,” Bartlett said.

Lalloway says that, when a bigger wedge issue does pop up, he’s going to be firm, but he’s not going to “yell and scream.”

“There will be issues that we will disagree on, and I hope to keep the dialogue civil on both sides. I think we owe it to our constituents and to the political arena in general,” Lalloway said.

Council members, for their part, have said that the change is positive and are hopeful that the conversation will remain civil.

“It’s always best to handle disagreements in a civil fashion, and in fact, democracy benefits from that, from different perspectives, different points of view,” Agran said.

Kang added that, rather than digging in on every little issue as the battle of the year, Lalloway has taken on a more “global” perspective.

“The new council is much more desirable than before,” Kang said.

At least part of what has contributed to the new council dynamic is Lalloway’s style at the dais, which he said is always aimed at thoughtful discourse.

In at least one minor case, Lalloway managed to get what he says was a good government proposal approved by the Great Park Board of Directors. Instead of having promotion and production of large music events at the park handed out in a sole-source contract, Lalloway proposed putting the contract out to bid.

The board members agreed. Lalloway points to the consensus as partly the result of his style, which, he says, is more effective than accusing his colleagues of bad intentions.

Scott Baugh, county GOP chairman and establishment voice in the party, said he didn’t have an opinion whether Lalloway’s style of engagement is what the party wanted to see, saying the role of the party is to get Republicans elected.

Asking to choose between Republicans’ styles, Baugh said, was “postulating a false theorem.”

“The choice was Goeroge Herbert Walker Bush or Michael Dukakis,” Baugh said. “Not George Herbert Walker Bush and Ronald Reagan.”

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