Irvine Councilmember Jeff Lalloway says the highly publicized audit of public spending on the city’s Great Park project uncovered massive waste and mismanagement, but he doesn’t think it found sufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges or civil recovery against any contractors or officials.
“How do you spend 250 million dollars and have what we have out there? Where did it go? And we’ve definitively told the public through the audit where that money went. It was poorly spent, it was mismanaged,” Lalloway said in an interview on the public affairs program “Inside OC with Rick Reiff.” But he went on, “Was any of it stolen? No, it’s all there.”
The show is airing on PBS SoCal channels (listings at www.rickreiff.com) and can also be watched on-line.
Asked if he favored pursuing civil suits to recover any misspent funds, Lalloway said, “Probably not. I think we need to move forward as a city and look to the future instead of trying to sue people for things they may or may not have done. And they’re expensive, lawyers – as I’m one – are expensive and there’s no certainty of recovery.”
Lalloway pushed for hiring the Newport Beach forensic accounting firm HSNO and the Irvine law firm Aleshire & Wynder to investigate, with subpoena power, the more than $200 million spent on the Great Park planning and development between 2005 and 2012.
The investigators found an operation plagued by poor management, lack of accountability, weak budget controls and questionable expenditures, including $7 million in no-bid contracts to a politically connected PR firm. Some two dozen depositions of officials, consultants, employees and other key figures were posted on-line, becoming public fodder and a rallying cry in the 2014 council reelection defeat of Great Park power broker Larry Agran.
But Lalloway’s reluctance to pursue legal action suggests that little more will come from the audit, which has cost the city about $1.5 million.
Councilmember Christina Shea, asked to react to Lalloway’s televised comments, said she “completely disagreed” with his legal assessment and favored suing to recoup “millions and millions” of dollars. However, she said she didn’t believe there was enough support on the current council to take legal action and that it might be up to a future council to consider such action.
On another matter, Lalloway repeated his criticism of fellow Republican Mayor Stephen Choi for removing him as Irvine’s voter on a selection committee for the OC cities’ representative to the South Coast Air Quality Management District. But Lalloway said it was a mistake made in anger for him to send Choi a scathing email that stated, “Say goodbye to your political career.”
“I should not have sent it, I made a mistake and I learned a lesson,” Lalloway said.
The clash stemmed from a move by Republicans to gain control of the AQMD board by replacing the OC cities’ representative, Democratic Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, a green energy advocate, with Republican Lake Forest Councilmember Dwight Robinson, seen as more business-friendly.
When Lalloway did not readily commit to the plan, Choi replaced him with Shea, who cast a key vote for Robinson, giving the GOP a one-vote edge on the AQMD.
Lalloway said he would have ultimately voted for Robinson if given the time to do “due diligence.” But he described Pulido as a “decent” vote if not a “great” one, said he prefers “human air quality” to “business-friendly air quality” and called the GOP maneuver “a poke in the eye” to Democrats that he feared could backfire. Indeed, there are rumblings in Sacramento that the Legislature may pack the AQMD board with additional members, restoring the Democratic edge and then some.
“We need to understand that they can do this to us at any point and I think it’s better to play for big victories (at the ballot box),” Lalloway, a county and state GOP official, said.
Lalloway also displayed a sense of humor. Commenting on his day job, Lalloway said, “Being a divorce lawyer makes politics look easy.”
Episodes of “Inside OC” can be viewed at rickreiff.com, pbssocal.org and on YouTube. YouTube also features post-show “Open Mic” segments of “Inside OC.”