Could The Great Park Be Built ‘Ahead of Schedule’?

If all goes according to plan, an Irvine developer this summer will begin early construction phases to build hundreds of acres of the Orange County Great Park, a timeline that city leaders and a representative of the builder say is more than a year ahead of schedule.

“It’s gonna be exciting,” said Councilwoman Christina Shea. “Within a year we’re going to be out here and look at close to 500 acres of the park developed.”

However, not everyone is happy about the news. Members of the City Council faction that previously controlled the park say the development represents the commercialization of what was to be a purely public vision.

Construction of the 1,300-acre park project – or lack thereof – has been the most hotly debated issue in the city since the political battle 15 years ago over whether to turn the shuttered El Toro Marine Air Base into an international airport.

The Democratic council majority that previously controlled the park was sharply criticized for being too slow to develop the project, while spending large sums on costs like public relations and no-bid contracts. The Democrats have countered that they activated the park with special events and that stalled construction was caused primarily by the housing bust and Great Recession.

The frustration came to a head in 2012, when Republican candidates flipped a seat on the council and gained a three-member majority. The next year, they signed off on a deal with FivePoint Communities, which is building thousands of homes around the project, to construct 688 acres of the park in exchange for approval to build more homes.

Construction phases slated for this Summer are beginning earlier than promised in the deal, a PowerPoint presentation made by representative Patrick Strader at a council study session in April.

Among the plans is a 175-acre sports park that includes dozens of soccer fields and baseball, volleyball and tennis courts. There will also be a 40-acre bosque, a wooded recreational area with trails; a 36-acre “upper bee” canyon, which is a more modest version of the man-made canyon in the master plan; and a 178-acre wildlife corridor. The man-made canyon previously in the master plan would be replaced with a 188-acre golf course.

Shea says the sports park could be completed by the fall of 2016.

Those amenities would be in addition to the 88 acres of public space now available at the park, including soccer fields and a palm court complex, among other things.

Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway said the construction fulfills a promise made to the voters to “finally build out the Great Park.”

“To accelerate [construction] faster than origninally anticipated shows we are dedicated to providing these amendiites and fulfilling these promises when we make them,” Lalloway said.

Currently, most of the development is focused on underground infrastructure, officials say. FivePoint has also removed at least four million square feet of the runways, according to Strader.

That presentation also claims grading for the upper bee canyon and bosque was supposed to start June 1 and that grading for the sports park would begin July 15. Whether those dates are still accurate is unclear. The developer did not respond to questions submitted by Voice of OC.

Councilwoman Beth Krom, the only Democrat remaining on the council, says the developments come with significant caveats, mainly allowing the developer to alter a public metropolitan park to make it a more profitable venture.

For one, the sports park would be “pay-to-play” whereby leagues would pay for access to the fields and occupy them often for tournaments, she said. The previous vision for the park was to have free access to the public, according to Krom.

She also says a future cultural terrace district, which is currently in the brainstorming phase and could include structures like an amphitheater, library and museums, would be jointly planned, and the city wouldn’t be able to move forward on the district without approval from the developer.

“We’re being treated like this child that can’t think for themselves,” Krom said.

And Krom criticizes a plan to tether the iconic orange balloon, which takes riders up hundreds of feet for a view of Irvine, or reduce the number of hours it operates.

“Christina wants to get rid of the balloon. What’s next, the Easter Bunny?” Krom said. “I swear to God, I don’t even recognize my city from my perch.”

Shea says the charge that the Republican council majority has embarked on a commercialization drive of the park isn’t true because, while the developer would be constructing the improvements, it would turn the amenities over to the city once completed.

“It’s just a bunch of Beth Krom’s rhetoric. It’s just not true,” Shea said.

As for the balloon, Shea said the approximately $1 million annual cost to operate it is too burdensome. She said she wants to explore all options.

“I would not have a problem with it being nonoperational,” Shea said. “It would be more of an iconic symbol out there. It wouldn’t be something for people to be riding.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

  • notinmycountry

    I dont care what they do with it. The only thing they absolutely have to do is build an amphitheatre to replace Irvine meadows/verizon. How can south OC not have a decent concert venue?

  • the714

    The “Great Park” was always going to end up as condos and Costcos, and anyone who thought otherwise can now self-identify as a rube. It was always about control of the largest building project around, and the Agran crew didn’t care what was built as long as they controlled it and could parlay it into perpetual political control of Irvine. “Park” was just a slogan to prevent it from being an airport, since an airport would have been under County and Federal control, with no chance for graft by the Agran machine.

  • Paul Lucas

    Where are they getting the water for a golf course of wooded area?

  • Philmore

    Without repeating the list of other amenities from the article above, I’m sure the Register will get great front page photos of WATERING the “175- acre sports park” and “188 acre golf course” during a water-restricted DROUGHT, to turn dirt into turf, so we can be “AHEAD OF SCHEDULE”. Brilliant.

  • kburgoyne

    It was always inappropriate for the federal government to give the land to a city. The “giving” should always have been top-down. The federal government should only give its land to a state. The state can decide whether to give the land to a county. The county can decide whether to give the land to a city.

    Given the size, it should always have been either a state or county park.

  • Georgie Marin

    Roger, you don’t live in Irvine. It’s not YOUR city.

    • Philmore

      But last I heard, neither the Great Park plans nor any other, included building a gated WALL around it, and the GP was sold and funded as a REGIONAL benefit. Of the many places in OC besides the county seat to the north, where I would expect a “Where you from?” challenge, Irvine is a surprise. What’s the next surprise, being asked about “colors”? (“HOA-Approved Beige” may be a wrong answer!)

      • Georgie Marin

        Does the county or any other city pay for the maintenance?

        Where am I from? Fountain Valley. I don’t live in a HOA and my house and car are not beige.
        I would rather have everyone pay for the sports park use rather than have ME and MY kids pay MORE so that Irvine people can go there for free cuz it’s in their city and they pay taxes for it.
        Everyone pays for stuff except the people who mooch off the government and want handouts and bailouts. You one of those?

      • Roger Butow

        Philmore: Pretty funny, huh? Now Irvine is Las Vegas: What happens there stays there, it’s no one else’s business. Like OZ or Wonderland, a fantasy world.
        As for what’s happening now, activity should never be equated with achievement (Thanks Coach Wooden).
        All I see is a City that has openly, in public, via tacky and immature acrimony, via litigation that could last for years, torn itself asunder.
        That many who comment feel that non-residents should just shut up and go away doesn’t sound like the people, the country I raised my hand to defend and die for.
        We should just disband County government—-It’s all about fiefdoms (cities) now.
        And if those fiefdoms siphon or channel common good county, state and federal taxpayer-paid funds, waste or abuse them, then we’re at fault for believing and supporting American dreams.
        Paying for use of a park that we already thought we’d funded, that was to be free for all, is the ultimate immoral insult—double billing film-flam at its finest.
        But once again, who said that government had to be ethical? Oh, yeah, those silly old white men 240 years ago: Our Founding Fathers.

  • Roger Butow

    Earth to Christine Shea? Hey, we the taxpayers and voters of OC are fed up with icons, vapid symbols without substance, your calling card for a decade—In fact Irvine should change the spelling of their name to $rv$ne, as in a money vine, endlessly creeping out into the cash cow foraging grounds, milking the rehab of the base facility—Literally creeping us out, now just sightseers or spectators to the implosion of OUR dream, obviously NOT yours.

    Forget about the orange balloon, it only stands for hyper-inflated egos, bloated and over-paid officials, staff and vendors riding the gravy train. Now that you’ve erased Uncle Larry The Pirate’s face, toss a coin to see who’s next to appear as on the floating billboard to futility.

    The City of Irvine conned us all—-And now with the Council the de facto Great Pork Board due to “corporate re-structuring,” they add insult to injury: Move OUR final resting place, OUR graveyard not YOURS (those of us OC veterans) out to a remote off-site canyon, nearly inaccessible for our families to come pay their respects & others to honor our service on holidays. Sold your souls (and indirectly ours due to our support) to yet bigger, larger development by greedy corporations waiting to bottom feed due to your fiscal myopia and malfeasance.

    Crassly, irresponsibly and without conscience you are forcing a “Pay-As-You-Play” upon already fiscally over-burdened families regarding sports facilities.
    So now that you refuse to honor minimum wage evolution, what you’ve revealed is what was ALWAYS lurking below the surface (like the contaminated aquifer that’ll take 40 years to clean and soil): Superficial. elitist egomaniacs who subvert the electoral system by alleging your seating constituted a mandate.

    Was THAT on the ballot next to your names? Sell out OUR dream, the one you in your Elmer Gantry, snake oil days portrayed, sold us as for the County’s greater benefit?

    Your City, not us, is responsible for this fiasco—-regardless of who held office. the BUCK stops with YOU. Now the $$$ literally stops in Irvine: Almost all of the income from the former MCAS El Toro conversion will line YOUR City’s pockets.

    We don’t get the short end of the stick—-We get no piece of the “Schtick,” nothing but whatever goes to the County as property taxes.

    At long last, have you no sense of dignity, of shame? How can you argue among and blame each other when you’re ALL to blame. You blew it (The Great Pork), and you refuse to express remorse and contrition. We as a dominantly Judeo-Christian country understand open remorse, and acts of contrition.

    Like a drug, spouse or child abuse intervention, your first step should be admission of the problem…instead you just keep re-applying lipstick to a pig, thinking eventually we’ll see it as the epitome of beauty.

    As a Vietnam-era Marine who served his last 5 months @ El Toros (3rd MAW), I’d invoke SEMPER FIDELIS once again…we faithfully performed the tasks our nation entrusted us to do to the best of our ability.

    You, Irvine? SEMPER GUMBY: Always flexible, twisting and contorting yourselves to avoid accountability and ultimate responsibility. In other nations you’d resign, perhaps be in a court martial and/or stripped of your title, taken out, blindfolded and shot—or honorably commit suicide because of the shame you’re brought upon your people.

    Instead your Chinese water torture (drip-by-sadistic-drip) of us continues unabated: You just keep finger pointing, screaming at each other in the media and at public hearings, meanwhile spending “Mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money” whilst you endlessly investigate each other.

    As Jimmy Durante uttered in exasperation: “What a revolting development this is!”

    • Ltpar

      Hey Roger, you are such a sucker and so easily conned, how bout I sell you a bridge I own in Brooklyn? Let me know if you are interested. By the way, as an Irvine resident, which you ar not, I happen to like the progress the City Council is making on the Great Park. They have gotten more accomplished in two years than the Agranistas did in ten.

  • Roger Butow

    Earth to Beth Krom? Hey, we, the taxpayers and voters of OC are the ones being treated like children. We were suckered, duped, hornswoggled

    • Georgie Marin

      Since WHEN does the government NOT sucker, dupe and hornswoggle anyone? Every time we vote on some bond it’s supposed to be the end all and it’s never true. The government always wants more and gives less.
      Grow up. Time to smell the coffee and move on. The government is never your friend unless you want bailouts and hand outs.