Beth Krom says the best part of her 16 years on the Irvine City Council was “relationships I was able to develop with people in the community, institutions and organizations. I like to understand how communities work and how to make them work better.”

The worst part?

“People are willing to make judgments about you without really knowing you … I think there’s more and more of that in politics,” Krom said on “Inside OC with Rick Reiff.”

After being in the council’s ruling Democratic Party majority for 12 years, including two terms as mayor, Krom spent the last four years in the minority. She decided to step down rather than run again in last year elections.

“Personally I think the city was in better shape in the years that we controlled it,” Krom said, “but because Orange County, I think falsely, thinks of itself as a Republican-controlled county, there was just lot of negative energy that got directed at us and ultimately it changed the shape of our council.”

Alluding to her lockstep voting with political ally Larry Agran, Krom said, “People often said I was a puppet for other people on the council. Anybody who’s ever met me knows I show up everyday as myself using my own brain.”

Krom said being part of the South County coalition that defeated the proposed commercial airport at the former El Toro Marine base was one of her greatest political achievements, and she defended the widely criticized planning process for the Great Park project that replaced the airport idea.

Detractors contend more than $200 million was spent largely on drawings and consultants, including a $1 million-a-year no-bid public relations contract, with little to show for it. The expenditures became the subject of a forensic audit and were a key campaign issue in the 2014 defeat of Agran, who had been the driving force behind the Great Park.

Still, Krom said, “The truth is right now the only features people are using are the features we designed and built … I feel we did a great job.”

Krom said unforeseen setbacks – the 2007-2008 financial collapse and the state’s withdrawal of more than $1 billion in anticipated redevelopment funds – were exploited in order to “commercialize” the park:

“Right now what we have are people, institutions, developers who are willing to spend a million dollars to get a council that is controlled by them and will do their bidding.”

Great Park homebuilder FivePoint is developing 688 acres of the public park, including a 175-acre sports complex of soccer fields, tennis courts, ballfields, small stadiums and other amenities. (Disclosure: FivePoint is a sponsor of “Inside OC.”)

“We wanted a park with no roads,” Krom said. “Now what we’re going to have is a little city there with a lot of interesting but not necessarily passive or inviting park features, and if you want to go there and play ball with your kid you might be behind 27 buses that are bringing people in from all over California or the western part of the United States.”

Krom also discussed her personal life, fighting back tears as she recalled the 2009 death of her son Noah, who accidentally fell from a cliff in Isla Vista just one week before he was to graduate from UC Santa Barbara. Krom at the time was running for Congress, a race she eventually lost to incumbent John Campbell:

“Noah was my most innately political child. I felt like he was with me on that journey and I think that’s all that kept me going.”

Krom said she’ll now have time to return to other interests, including writing, illustrating and – “people may or may not be surprised” – stand-up comedy. She ended with a joke:

“If you can get a roomful of drunks to laugh at you in the morning, you can run for public office.”

YouTube video

The interview airs Sunday (Jan. 8) on KDOC-TV and airs throughout next week on PBS SoCal-TV and Cox channels including the post-show Open Mic segment. Show times are here All shows are also available on YouTube.

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