New Irvine Majority Wants ‘Top Down’ Review of Great Park

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Members of a new, Republican Irvine City Council majority say their first priority will be a top-down review of spending at the Orange County Great Park, which for years has faced sharp criticism from Republicans who say the park’s finances have been grossly mismanaged.

And at least one new member of the majority, returning Councilwoman Christina Shea, is already calling for an audit of the park’s expenditures. Shea also called for the termination of the park’s Forde & Mollrich no-bid public relations contract, a symbol of what Republicans say has been the park leadership’s wasteful spending and political cronyism.

“The Forde and Mollrich contract will be void. … That needs to be done away with immediately,” Shea said.

The new council majority — soon-to-be Mayor Steven Choi, Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway and Shea — will be sworn in Dec. 11.

It will be the first time in 15 years that Republicans dominate what has been a council controlled by Democrats.

City officials, under the leadership of former council majority leader Larry Agran, spent most of the $200 million in fees from developer Lennar Corp., investing heavily in design and park consultants.

According to a recent Los Angeles Times analysis, less than a fifth of the funds spent were used for park construction.

The current Democratic council majority has largely dismissed the Republicans’ complaints, saying they come from naysayers who want to see the park defeated for political gains.

Great Park Chairwoman and Democratic council member Beth Krom wrote in an LA Times op-ed article that the park has built momentum, pointing to the opening next year of “tournament-quality soccer fields, a new visitors center, community gardens and our first water features.”

Whether Shea will receive support for an audit or for terminating the Forde & Mollrich contract remains to be seen. For years, the contract allowed the consultant to receive a $100,000 monthly retainer fee but was recently cut to $50,000 per month.

Lalloway and Choi have said only that they want a review of all consulting contracts.

“We’re going to conduct a complete financial study of the park to determine from top to bottom what we’re paying for, whether we’re getting our money’s worth and how to proceed forward,” Lalloway said. “All three of us have been outspoken opponents of no-bid contracts, and that will not change.”

Forde & Mollrich assisted the Agran-led effort to defeat the development of an airport at the El Toro Marine Corp Air Station and instead to build the park. Consultant partner Arnold Forde and his former partner William Butcher were once known as the “Darth Vaders of direct mail.”

Since the airport fight, Forde & Mollrich was among other Great Park no-bid contractors to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to political action committees that funded a slate mailer campaign credited with keeping Agran and the Democratic council majority in power.

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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