PBS: Irvine Council Members Argue Over Great Park Vision

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As new sports fields open at Orange County Great Park, the old fight between the park’s warring factions continues.

Council members recently unveiled the park’s new south lawn sports and fitness complex, a 30-acre expansion that is almost complete after about a year of construction.

The $23-million project includes four tournament-quality soccer fields, four basketball courts, a mile-long fitness trail, an expanded walkable historic timeline, a viewing pier over reflecting ponds and a giant chess set.

Great Park CEO Mike Ellzey acknowledged that the $23-million price tag for some soccer fields and basketball courts is colossal, but he has an explanation.

“Much of that investment actually is underneath the fields that you’re looking at and standing on, because we have a state-of-the-art water management system. The drainage system is absolute leading-edge,” Ellzey said.

“We have a water management program that’s geared toward capturing and reusing as much water as we possibly can,” he said, adding that officials hope the program will be implemented systemwide.

Great Park Corp. Chairman Jeff Lalloway also said that $23 million is a massive amount to pay and that while it’s an amazing expansion to the park, he disapproves of the funding process.

“The previous council spent $250 million. We have stuff out here, I mean, I’ll acknowledge it: It’s just not enough for the amount spent. And now we’re down to about $20 million left, which is not enough to built anything more,” said Lalloway.

“We don’t have a lot of money left because of what’s happened in the past.”

Lalloway blamed the situation largely on former council majority leaders Larry Agran and Beth Krom.

“It’s a matter of focus. Again, we could be focused on parties and one-time events or we could be focused on permanent amenities to the park. And I think we have a different focus than one-time events. And that’s a fair criticism,” said Lalloway.

Krom disagreed.

“Rather than sort of making it a personal comparison, what I’d say is I’m very proud that for 12 years this project was led with a very clear vision. A vision for a great public park for the benefit of all the people of Orange County. A vision for building the park and activating it as we build,” said Krom.

“So what some people might say, or ‘we’re not into the events,’ is really about activating the park.”

Krom said it’s the new majority who is setting the park back, and that majority does not have a clear vision going forward.

“I regret that there was such an investment on the part of the new majority to simply plant a flag, to kind of say there’s a new sheriff in town, we’re going to get rid of the independent directors, we’re going to start charging for the balloon, we’re going to throw Beth Krom out of her position as chair of the corporation a few months early,” she said.

The city is working on a five-year strategic business plan that Lalloway said is critically important in determining sources of future Great Park revenues.

The most significant proposal on the table is one by developer FivePoint Communities to build an extra 4,600 homes at the park in addition to 20 more soccer fields, baseball fields, volleyball courts and other amenities.

The segment aired this week on PBS SoCaL’s “Real Orange.” Click the video above to see the full report.

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