At Odds Over Great Park Letter

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A letter proposing a 100-acre expansion for a recycling company operating at the Orange County Great Park has two adversaries on the Irvine City Council at odds, with one calling for an investigation into an alleged cover-up and the other labeling the call election-year posturing.

The letter from Arthur Kazarian, president of Tierra Verde Industries, proposes a 25-year lease that would expand the company’s current 78.9-acre site to nearly 183 acres. The company operates a recycling facility at the site that has helped the city fulfill a state mandate to divert some waste away from landfills.

Sources with knowledge of the situation say that Beth Krom, Irvine councilwoman and park board chairwoman, feared premature exposure of the proposal, tried to bury the letter and chastised Great Park CEO Mike Ellzey for eventually distributing it to board members

Krom says she was only upset that the letter, addressed to her and to Ellzey, did not come to her before going to other board members.

Jeffrey Lalloway, a park director and city councilman, says the incident could have been a violation of city policy, which requires that letters to one council member be distributed to all council members.

“If there was an effort to prevent city policy from being implemented and from me receiving that letter, I’m disturbed, and there should be an investigation by city officials,” Lalloway said.

Although the proposal is not being considered as of this article’s publication, the letter shows how new public-private partnership ideas — a strategy park leaders are pursuing to keep the park viable after the state eliminated redevelopment — could significantly alter plans to develop the 1,300-acre park.

Such a large expansion of the recycling center would likely undermine efforts to build a 200-acre cultural district in the park’s southern area, particularly plans to transform an old hangar into a museum of history and aviation.

Krom said the letter was addressed to her and Ellzey and she had wanted to see it first.

“There was a letter from TVI that was sent to me, and through a little snafu at the city, rather than it being given to me, it was sent over to the park. They didn’t give it to me because it had Mike Ellzey’s address on it,” Krom said. “My only concern was there was a letter to me that hadn’t gotten to me.”

Ellzey could not be reached for comment.

Krom and Kazarian are at odds over when Krom knew about the proposal, according to interviews.

Kazarian said he had been meeting with Krom and Director Larry Agran about the idea long before the letter was sent.

“I basically discussed it with them [Agran and Krom] — and I have in the past — about some ideas that I got and I sent it over to Mike,” Kazarian said.

Agran did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Krom says its not true that she has met with Kazarian before the letter. She said she first heard about the proposal when the letter was distributed to all the park’s board members and then met with Kazarian.

Unlike other board members who have taken a firm stance against the lease expansion, Krom says she is ambivalent about the idea.

“I had one meeting with Art [Kazarian] to try and understand what the proposal was. But prior to that I hadn’t had any meetings with him,” Krom said. “I neither support it nor reject it.”

After other directors learned of the proposal, the idea quickly lost traction. Kazarian says the talks were sidetracked after city officials entered into negotiations with Great Park Neighborhoods developer FivePoint Communities about another issue.

Some park directors immediately reacted to Kazarian’s idea with skepticism.

The day board members received the letter, Director Michael Pinto emailed other directors, writing that the deal appeared to be a taxpayer subsidy of Tierra Verde’s operations. Director Walkie Ray, in a reply email to every board member except Lalloway, listed several concerns.

“True or not, a waste recycling facility will be characterized by constituencies long opposed to the Great Park as proof that the Great Park was still-born. I’ve spent a lot of time among friends in Newport Beach arguing the contrary. Imagine what the [Orange County] Register will write,” Ray wrote to fellow board members.

Thomas Nielsen, a member of the Great Park Foundation, which is trying to raise money for park improvements, also expressed opposition to the lease expansion. “I don’t think we’re going to have a trash dump out there instead of a park,” Nielsen said.

And on the subject of the letter, Director and Councilman Steven Choi said that although he didn’t know whether Krom tried to hide the letter from the board, it wouldn’t surprise him. Choi and Lalloway’s predecessor, Republican Christina Shea, successfully sued the city after park leaders refused to let them see the resumes of candidates for a CEO search that had taken place.

“This is one of the problems I’ve been trying to solve for a long time,” Choi said.

Krom says that the issue is simply Lalloway playing politics. For several years, the Democratic majority on the council — Krom, Agran and Mayor Sukhee Kang — has been at odds with a vocal Republican minority.

“There’s a flawed assumption at the front end of it,” Krom said. “Jeff [Lalloway] is free to do whatever he wants to do, but he’s basically asserting that something occurred that didn’t occur. But it’s an election year,” Krom said. “I feel like I have deja vu every two years.”

Lalloway points out that he is not running for a council seat this year.

“Once again, Beth Krom tries to deflect blame for her actions by pointing to a political campaign that she may be running later this year,” Lalloway said. “It’s not a political issue for me.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.

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