The Irvine City Council Tuesday night gave final approval to a nearly 5,000-home development around the Orange County Great Park, a move that paves the way for significant funding of the park.
Council members also approved an agreement with Heritage Fields El Toro, developer of Great Park Neighborhoods, that includes $40.5 million in cash payments for the park. Those funds will come from the developer and were part of a deal negotiated mostly behind the scenes.
“Tonight marks the beginning of the start,” said Emile Haddad, CEO of FivePoint Communities, which will manage development of the project.
The 4-1 council vote, with Councilman Larry Agran dissenting, also marked another significant break in the City Council’s Democratic majority. Democratic Mayor Sukhee Kang sided with Republicans Steven Choi and Jeff Lalloway last month — a rare occurrence — when he voted to grant initial approval to the project.
On this second vote, Councilwoman Beth Krom voted for the project and thus created an exceedingly rare situation in which Agran was alone on a significant vote.
As Voice of OC detailed this week, Kang broke with Agran because of a disagreement over how to negotiate with Heritage Fields for more cash for the park. While Agran wanted the developer to promise upwards of $100 million for the park before signing off on the project, Kang and the Republicans were content to approve the project with a promise of $40.5 million and negotiate for more in the coming months.
That disagreement continued Tuesday night. Agran argued for language in the landowner agreement that would have encouraged development of a grand entrance to the park lined with “impressive treescapes” and development of athletic facilities, including an aquatics center and football stadium to be shared by a future high school that would serve the Great Park Neighborhoods.
The additional money Agran sought, about $60 million, was for athletic facilities, which he said would cost about $100 million. Because the facilities would also be shared with the future high school, the developer could tap state funds for lands intended for school construction, according to Agran.
To have Heritage Fields revisit the issue of school funding could prove a challenge. The firm and the Irvine Unified School District recently settled a long dispute over the location, funding and design of new schools, including the high school.
After the meeting, Agran scoffed at the idea that such a deal could be negotiated after already approving the project. Council approval is the only bargaining chip the city has, Agran said.
“This is it,” Agran said. “To go later on begging for funds when they [the developer] already have vested rights is not the way the public’s business should be conducted.”
Kang, meanwhile, previously expressed confidence that he will be able to negotiate for the rest of the cash — and possibly more — in the next six to eight months.
When asked whether the developer would consider the deal, Haddad said he wouldn’t take it off the table. “I’m open to any idea that gives us a better result,” he said.
Krom, who changed her vote from the last council meeting, said she only voted no last time because she didn’t think it was fit to approve the project without seeing the complete landowner agreement.
While she would have liked more public benefit, Krom said, the current agreement would “give us the resources to advance the Great Park project.”
Officials estimate that around $1.4 billion in property tax revenue will flow to the park over the next 40 years.
— ADAM ELMAHREK
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