Spitzer Issues Warning to Great Park Leaders

Moments after being sworn in Tuesday, Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer warned Irvine city leaders that if they don’t make more progress on their vision for the Orange County Great Park, he would lead a ballot initiative to transfer control of the 1,300-acre tract to the county government.

“We always have the option to discuss with the voters again whether this should be a great county park or an Irvine city park,” said Spitzer, a key leader of past initiatives that defeated a planned airport at the site.

It’s not entirely clear how the county could usurp the city’s domain over the Great Park. Nonetheless, Spitzer publicly questioned city leaders’ handling of the park development, spending more than $200 million in developer fees without much infrastructure resulting. He warned that other elected officials in Orange County may have to step in to protect the regional asset.

In an interview following his speech, Spitzer was adamant that his threat of a ballot initiative was serious.

“There’s a new [Republican] majority on the Irvine City Council, and that new majority has a very short window because they campaigned on the fact that they would be better stewards of the Irvine Great Park,” Spitzer said. He warned that the new council majority must make real progress before the next election cycle starts to heat up.

Standing in front of the Old County Courthouse in downtown Santa Ana, Spitzer laid out an ambitious vision for his second turn on the county Board of Supervisors, casting the county government and himself as regional leaders.

Spitzer called for a summit, a “vision conference,” to help Anaheim leaders address the woes that triggered riots last summer after a rash of officer-involved shootings.

“It’s not just an Anaheim problem,” Spitzer said.

He also vowed to make real progress on the county government’s efforts to eliminate homelessness, calling the current state of affairs in which scores of homeless people regularly camp at the Civic Center “really, really shameful.”

Recalling his spiritual reawakening as a Christian and his daily yoga practice, Spitzer called for a more healthy relationship with the county’s 18,000 public workers and the establishment of a wellness center for workers to encourage exercise and nutrition. “We need to honor and respect every one of our employees,” he said.

Spitzer also called for the widespread implementation of 401(k)-style retirement accounts for public workers and announced that both he and Nguyen would be taking a lesser pension at the county, opting for the newly-created lower benefit tier termed "1.67 at 62."

Nguyen, who was sworn in to her second consecutive term after running largely unopposed, reflected during her morning speech on what she described as an amazing journey her family took from Vietnam to the steps of the county courthouse.

“This moment would not be possible in any other country in the world,” Nguyen said.

She spoke of working as a 10-year old with her family to clean homes, talked about the challenges of poverty and marveled aloud at her improbable rise through UC Irvine, an internship at county Supervisor Bill Steiner’s office and her eventual run for the Garden Grove City Council then the Board of Suervisors.

Nguyen, who is expecting her second son, also reflected on being the first women to serve as an elected official in both Garden Grove and the 1st Supervisorial District. She is also the first Asian-American and Vietnamese-American to serve on the Board of Supervisors and is the youngest supervisor in local history.

During her speech, Nguyen reflected on her growth in the board. She won her first term in 2007 by an improbable three votes, then went on to win in 2010 with more than 74 percent of the vote.

Nguyen also reflected on her approach to the job compared with her predecessors. She said her office has focused on providing community events featuring access to health care and social service benefits like no other supervisor from the 1st District.

“We expect quality services in the 1st District,” Nguyen said.

Both Spitzer and Nguyen will make their first votes Tuesday morning at the supervisors’ first meeting of the year, during which the board will elect a new chairman.

Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosanana.

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