Monday, September 13, 2010 | Christina Shea — who for eight years has been the loudest and most consistent voice in opposition to the Irvine City Council’s Democratic majority — is stepping down from the dais at the end of the year.
In November, Irvine voters will decide who will take Shea’s place. The ballot will offer a half-dozen choices, including two students, a stock broker and a newly elected Republican Central Committee member.
But there are two clear frontrunners. One is Jeff Lalloway, a Republican lawyer who promises to take the baton from Shea and carry on her high-profile fights against the council majority on issues including the Great Park and the city’s public transportation. The other is Shiva Farivar, a Democrat who has generally applauded the direction the majority is taking the city.
The seats currently held by Councilman Larry Agran and Mayor Sukhee Kang are also up, and a third seat will open if Councilwoman Beth Krom wins her congressional race. But Agran or Kang losses — and/or a Krom win — are considered long shots.
“The real race here is between Shiva [Farivar] and Jeff [Lalloway] for that second seat,” said Irvine insider and Republican pollster Adam Probolsky.
Continuing the Fight, but Perhaps With More Diplomacy
Lalloway sees himself as the transparency and accountability candidate — much the way Shea characterized herself in a number of crusades on the council.
Shea consistently hammered the council majority on transparency at the Great Park, dwindling rainy day reserve funds, and the possible levying of millions in developers fees on a substantial expansion of the Irvine Business Complex.
“I hope to continue that and bring a voice of reason and transparency to our local government,” said Lalloway, who is vice chairman of the city’s finance commission.
Probolsky sees Lalloway as less polarizing than Shea and says he might have better luck as a consensus builder.
And Shea said Lalloway’s background in law would give him an edge that she didn’t have. “I use my intuition, but he will be able to use his ability to logically defend the legal aspects,” Shea said. “It doesn’t mean he will get anything passed with the 3-2, but that’s an important asset.”
A Supporter, but Not a Yes Woman
Farivar, who serves as chairwoman of the city’s community services commission, touts a deep understanding of the city’s social services programs, which Agran said are “unusually muscular for a city.”
“Shiva will be able to bring to the City Council a knowledge and commitment in that regard,” Agran said.
Farivar also has in-roads with educational institutions in Irvine, having represented Krom at the Irvine Public Schools Foundation, and having served with the Irvine Valley College Foundation.
That could end up being a key asset for the City Council. Agran pushed for a ballot initiative that would have voters commit $1 million challenge grants to the Irvine Public Schools Foundation for three fiscal years.
If Farivar is elected, that leaves Councilman Steven Choi as the only opposition on the council. Probolsky says Choi isn’t up to that task.
“I think Steven Choi is a weak council member. He is a weak elected official,” Probolsky said.
Choi is sometimes ignored by the council majority. But he said he will “have to fight stronger” if he ends up alone.
“What choice do I have?” he asked.
Farivar takes issue with the idea that she would be a yes woman for Agran and the majority. She said opposition is a good thing, but not when it’s for the sake of opposition.
“To be on the council just to say no to everything that Larry Agran says, does that mean you are independent? Definitely not,” Farivar said. “When the policy makes sense, council members should agree.”
Opposite Sides of the Issues
Lalloway and Farivar take opposite stances on the Great Park, the city budget and social services.
Decisions about the Great Park are first made by the park’s board of directors, and then given final approval by the council. This setup gives council members, who are also park board directors, double-authority on policies affecting the 1,300 acre park.
Farivar admits not having studied enough of the key park issues. But she did say she agreed with the decision to front-load the cost of the project on design. “You don’t want to build anything this huge as things progress or by happenstance,” Farivar said.
Lalloway wants to see some major cuts at the park, starting with its signature orange helium balloon that carries park visitors 400 feet into the air.
“The orange balloon is the albatross around the neck of the Great Park,” Lalloway said. “It’s a symbol of their [the council majority’s] inadequacy in building the Great Park.”
Lalloway said other expenses could be cut as well, like restaurant-style beepers for people who ride the Great Park balloon that he said cost $30,000 annually. He said such cuts are needed to save the city from financial disaster.
The city started with $23.5 million in its rainy-day reserve for fiscal year 2007-08. If budget estimates are correct, the fund will be down to $7.9 million after the 2010-11 fiscal year, Lalloway pointed out.
“At some point in the near future, they will run out of money,” Lalloway said.
Farivar dismisses such budget concerns and said Irvine is strategically positioned to rebound. She pointed to the opening of Hoag Hospital’s Irvine campus and the return of Western Digital to the city as evidence of Irvine’s strong business allure.
“I see much better times for Irvine much sooner than some other people think,” Farivar said.
Lalloway said that the “two jewels” of the city are public safety and education — and that propping up social services like the Irvine Shuttle, a city-sponsored bus system that has had low ridership, hurts core services like public safety in the future.
“All they [the council majority] want to do is kick the can down the road for another council on another day,” Lalloway said.
Farivar, meanwhile, wants to see the bus system expanded. A recent $121 million funding agreement between the Orange County Transportation Authority and the city could make that a reality.
One issue both candidates feel strongly about — and agree on — is supporting Irvine’s public schools, which have seen school days slashed from the calendar because of harsh budget cuts.
Before Kang proposed a $1 million challenge grant this year and Agran’s subsequent education ballot initiative, Lalloway proposed that the city cut $5 million and make a targeted one-time grant to public schools.
Farivar, meanwhile, says she always voted for school improvements while on the community services commission.
Others in the running for the seat include real estate broker Yunus Aksoy, student Bijan Mazarji, student Chris Moore, and Republican Central Committee member-elect Lynn Schott.
Correction: Due to an editing error a previous version of this story innacurately stated that the beepers used for people who ride the Great Park balloon were for Great Park staff.