Irvine Councilwoman Christina Shea is termed out this November, and although Irvine term regulations say she has the opportunity to run again in two years, for now her council career is on hiatus.
Shea was elected to the city council in 1992 and served as mayor from 1996 to 2000. Shea was elected again in 2002 and in 2006.
I had an opportunity to speak with Shea about her time on the council. Looking back, Shea sees many successes at what she says was the goal of her political career during the last eight years — to maintain an ethical council. But, Shea says, she ultimately failed at providing real transparency.
Looking back, what has been your biggest accomplishment on the council?
One big issue was the great park CEO process. Larry Agran tried to bring in his best friend in behind the scenes to run the park with … really a sham of a national CEO search. I personally had to sue him and the city. After a year, the appellate court agreed with me and forced him to bring all of the corporate paperwork and all the resumes that had been submitted. Clearly there were many many substantial, superior individuals who should have been chosen for that CEO position, and I and the public would never have known that unless I had sued him for that information.
You know, it’s been a troubling eight years since I came back in 2002. I’ve been a minority candidate for eight years. It’s … something that’s brought tears to my eyes. Many nights I’ve gone home and felt very frustrated and felt very helpless to defend what I believe is my job — to protect the public interest, because I have a mayor, a fellow council member and a former mayor who really use their offices to promote themselves politically.
Being always on the minority voting bloc, did you ever feel that you were tilting at windmills?
Yes, I feel like Don Quixote in many ways. I really feel that I really am kind of a dreamer and a visionary, and I always want the world to be just this kind of perfect utopia — and it’s difficult because the reality is life isn’t perfect. Life is full of evil and bad people. It’s full of many many good people, and there are many people who are good people, who have good intentions, but in time their intentions turn bad — for whatever reasons.
So I feel like I’ve been out there chasing after windmills, fighting dragons, chasing dragons, and I’ve had some wonderful supporters, but it’s a very lonely position to be a leader. Being in leadership is difficult because it’s a very lonely place to be.
And I’m a single woman — I’ve been single for 19 years, so that of course that makes it difficult as well because I go home alone, and at least sometimes if you have a partner, at least you have a friend to support you and encourage you. I don’t have that, so it has made it doubly difficult for me personally.
But I haven’t run from the challenge, and I’m not complaining about it — it’s just a fact of my life.
What do you say to the majority’s argument that you’re a naysayer and that you just want to stop progress on projects like the Great Park for your own political gain?
I will confirm that I do want to stop progress — but the progress I want to stop is their illegitimate decisions, programs and policies. I’m a naysayer when it comes to pushing public policy that benefits politicians. Yes, I am proud of the fact that I have stood up against and voted no on many votes that I believe harmful.
For instance — Arnold Forde.
These council members in Bell have been getting a hundred thousand dollars a year for serving and they have a city manager who gets $800,000 a year — but the Great Park has a Forde and Mollrich contract where they get a $120,000 a month. It is not justified, and he [Arnold Forde] has admitted to working for the majority’s campaign as a volunteer. I guess if I was getting $120,000 a month, maybe I would volunteer too. And it’s interesting; right after the elections, his contracts are renewed.
So yes, I have been negative at times and I voted against this budget this year. We have a $28 million shortfall. We will have absolutely no reserves after this new budget is adopted, and they’re doing nothing proactively to really dig down into this budget and start making cuts that we’re just going to have to make because this economy — as we all know — this economy is not going to turn around in six months. I think from that standpoint, my no vote was an important vote, and I think our staff, and our financial staff, and our city manager are concerned and very frightened about the future. The majority wants to paint this rosy picture about the future of the economy, and that’s, in my opinion, unethical.
Are there any more battles ahead in your last months on the council?
In September, my intention is to bring forward something that is very troublesome — this environmental study we’re doing at the Great Park. I hired a staff member to help me do some investigation — he’s looked all over the country; we’re talking the Department of the Navy and many other public agencies — and there’s not one public agency we have found that hides their environmental studies under attorney-client privilege.
I mean, this is just absolutely ridiculous. You’re talking about the health and welfare of our residents and residents who are going to visit the park. I’m going to ask to have a full overview of what’s been determined so far, what contaminants have been found, what our progress is in regards to cleanup at the base and determining any environmental problems that could be there. For them to hide that under attorney-client privilege … anybody with any sense would know this is just foolishness. It’s dishonest. Transparency should be normal at City Hall instead of continually hiding things that Mr. Agran and his team … you know. … I’m going to bring that forward for sure.
You told me once before that your goal was to create an open and transparent government in Irvine. Did you achieve that goal?
Oh, no. That goal has never been achieved. It was much more that way in the ’90s, but when you have three individuals who will not vote or oppose each other on any vote and haven’t for the last eight … 10 years they’ve been on the council, since Larry’s been in charge. It’s difficult because businesses are threatened by it. It just creates the sense that if you don’t go along to get along you’re not going to go along at all.
That’s why I suggest with this IBC [Irvine Business Complex] plan … we finally moved in a positive direction where we’re not going to have lawsuits. But there’s a a huge exaction on these developers, and they don’t want to stand up and say, “Wait a second. I appreciate the fact that you want to fund this plan, but we need to have a break on the $70 million in fees.” Not one developer has stood up because they know if they do, the plan could be overturned and they could have some repercussions that are negative.
Until there’s more of an independent council, you’re not going to see transparency. You’re not going to see openness no matter how much the three of them try to argue that’s what happens. Just look at the history here — there’s been absolutely no transparency.
What’s next for you? Are you considering another run for council in the future?
Who knows? I may come back in two years. I believe in term limits — I think it’s important that we do take a break. It’s very important that politicians take a step back and get into private sector issues. It’s just more of a level thinking pattern really. … You’re just not so into this. … You’re in charge and you’re important. Step back and become a regular citizen so you can understand and say, “Hey — I can understand why I’m concerned about my taxes, why I’m concerned about this.” … It gives you a better perspective. So I think in the future, I’m not really sure. … I’m not a big planner for tomorrow; I’m kind of a dreamer, and I’m very thoughtful and responsible, but I don’t look real far down the road.
I am looking to try to promote my real estate business a little more. Being a single woman, I really need to take care of myself and pay my own bills, so that’s always something I’ll be focused on.
We’ll see. I don’t know what the future holds. You know, when I left in 2000, I never thought I would come back. And I’d been off council a little over a year, and I was getting calls from people asking me to run. I was talked into it, and now I was just at a Fire Authority meeting and I had a flashback of all these memories … and I thought, You know, it’s been a great eight years. It’s been difficult, but it’s something I love dearly, and I love public service. I’m very proud to have served this city.