Great Park Chairwoman Beth Krom kicked off this year’s State of the Park address with a quotation from French writer Anatole France: “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”
The quote was part of an effort to drive home a message that has been heard before: Building a great metropolitan park takes a long time.
Krom talked about how some of the nation’s most famous parks — Central Park in New York, Balboa Park in San Diego and the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco — took a long time to develop.
At Central Park, Krom said, the first playground wasn’t installed for more than 60 years. Development at Balboa Park didn’t begin until 80 years after the land was placed in reserve in the 19th century, Krom said. And the open-air plaza known as the music concourse at Golden Gate Park was excavated some 30 years after park planning began, she said.
“Building a great metropolitan park takes vision, resources and time,” Krom said.
In recent years the park’s leadership has been criticized for failing to deliver on big promises. There have also been questions about millions of dollars in no-bid contracts that have been doled out to Great Park contractors.
The address comes just two days before the debut of the Palm Court Arts Complex and the North Lawn at the Great Park. The Palm Court features an art gallery and artists’ studios adjacent to a plaza lined with palm trees. The North Lawn is essentially 19.5 acres of green open space and soccer fields.
The court and lawn are the first park areas to open under the Western Sector Park Development Plan, which will eventually expand the 1,347-acre park’s recreational area from the 27.5-acre preview park to more than 200 acres.
While Krom boasted about recreation at the park — including concerts, a carousel, a helium balloon ride, a farmer’s market and Friday night dance parties — she didn’t mention the recent elimination of redevelopment agencies by the state, which could significantly affect funding for future park construction.
Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway released a rebuttal to Krom’s speech, stating that while he wants to see the park built, the park’s board of directors continue to hand out no-bid contracts — fiscally irresponsible decisions, according to Lalloway.
He singled out two no-bid contracts approved this year: a $25,000-per-month contract with San Francisco-based Strada Investment Group to generate public-private partnership deals and a contract paying up to $150,000 to retired Finance Director Kurt Mowery. That contract was criticized as double-dipping by Mowery, since he was already collecting a $133,882 pension.
“Every bid should be competitive, every dollar spent wisely and well,” Lalloway stated. “I’m sorry to say that is not yet the case at the Orange County Great Park.”