Although the Orange County Great Park had its share of setbacks, there has always been a confidence among Irvine officials that the 1,300-acre park’s status as a redevelopment area meant the road to its eventual completion was paved with more than $1.4 billion in property tax revenue.
But now that Gov. Jerry Brown has killed redevelopment in California and a recent state Supreme Court decision ensured that it wouldn’t be resurrected anytime soon, Great Park leaders find themselves on a far more uncertain path.
Yet they remain confident.
“The way we look at this collectively is that the destination has not changed, the destination remains the same — to build a great metropolitan park,” said City Manager Sean Joyce. “The journey has changed.”
Joyce and other Irvine officials maintain that a development agreement with the developer, Heritage Fields, requires construction of the park, thereby securing the funding. Heritage Fields plans to build nearly 5,000 homes, which will increase property tax revenue at the development. Irvine officials argue that this increase is theirs to keep.
But the decision on funding seemingly will be in the hands of a seven-member oversight board to be created by the state legislation that dissolved redevelopment agencies. The board will be composed of two mayor’s appointees, two county appointees, and three appointees by school agencies and the largest special governing district in the area.
It is far from certain whether that board will approve Irvine’s claim to the tax stream. But there are also gaps in the state’s dissolution bill that also place the oversight board in question, said Assistant City Manger Sharon Landers.
While the city must submit its claim to the revenue by April 15, the oversight board needn not be in place until May 1. “It’s another disconnect in the law right now,” Landers said.
City leaders are also hoping that Sacramento will pass legislation that exempts the park from the redevelopment ax. Park director Walkie Ray, who said he has contacts in Brown’s office, predicted that the governor most likely will veto legislation to rescue parts of redevelopment.
Park leaders don’t have any solid alternatives to the funding stream if it disappears. But they are pursuing public-private partnerships to obtain more funding for the park, an effort that has been ongoing for two years, said Great Park CEO Mike Ellzey.
The park already receives millions in revenue from such partnerships.
“We’re well on our way; we’ve got a running start here,” Ellzey said.
Some Great Park directors insist that the park can be built without funds from redevelopment, while others say urgent cuts are necessary.
“Believe in the genius of our own collective approach to all of this that has brought us this far, this fast, and we will make further progress, I have no doubt,” said Larry Agran, a city councilman and former chairman of the park’s board of directors.
Park directors Jeffrey Lalloway, Bill Kogerman, Steven Choi and Ray called for cuts to park spending.
“I simply cannot support a business-as-usual mentality here,” said Kogerman, a retired Marine Corps officer. “I’ve got a flank attack by the state. It’s not time to start thinking about all the positive things but how do I move forward with what I’ve got? In my opinion, we need to seriously trim administrative and other costs.”