Irvine City Council members have not taken any concrete steps to set up an advisory committee for Great Park residents to comment on how their tax dollars are used, despite repeated requests from constituents who live there.
A Voice of OC investigation last year found Great Park residents pay some of the highest property taxes in Irvine that go toward funding the city’s billion dollar dream of Orange County’s own Central Park, but have almost no say on where that money goes.
Those taxes are used to pay off multi-million dollar bonds that are the largest source of the park’s funding.
“Decisions are constantly made without resident’s knowledge or without a request for their views,” said Nissreen Qamhiyah, a Great Park resident who’s been vocal about her concerns on how the special taxes are spent. “The majority of Great Park homeowners don’t know we have a no sunset (special tax) and that it’s used to finance and maintain the Great Park.”
Several months ago it looked like homeowners would get heard on the issues when three of the four council members elected last November pledged during the campaign to support an advisory committee of Great Park residents to weigh in on future projects.
So far, the park has largely been developed into sports fields and facilities, but hundreds of acres still sit undeveloped while thousands of homes have popped up surrounding the park over the last decade.
The committee would not have an official vote on contracts and development due to existing city laws, but could advise council members ahead of every vote.
But nearly halfway through the year, no one seems to have an idea what that committee will look like or how it will function.
Councilman Larry Agran circulated a memo in April asking for a discussion on creating that panel, following up on his earlier statement during an election debate hosted by a community blog — the Irvine Watchdog — that he wanted to see the issue move forward.
“As things stand now, it’s taxation without representation,” Agran said in a phone call with Voice of OC Friday afternoon. “What form that could take is up for grabs, but it ought to be self-evident these people (Great Park residents) have a very important stake in this matter and they ought to have much more say in how resources are allocated.”
Under the city’s rules, Agran needs at least one other council member to sign on for the council to host any debate on the issue. But Mayor Farrah Khan and Councilwoman Tammy Kim, who said at that same debate they would support looking into it, refused to sponsor Agran’s proposed discussion.
Kim originally signed on to have the issue discussed at the council’s April 27 meeting, but changed her mind, asking her signature be removed because she wanted to learn more about the proposal.
“I don’t have an issue with wanting to talk about the Great Park residents, but I just don’t really know what this is about, I don’t know what his (Agran’s) purpose is,” Kim said on a phone call with Voice of OC reporters Thursday afternoon. “City staff gave (Agran’s proposal) to me, I quickly said yes then thought about it and said let me figure out what this is about first and it was literally the same day.”
Kim said Agran never reached out later to clarify his memo, and she didn’t follow up on the issue.
It also remains unclear how the panel would be selected if the council moved forward in the process, but some residents think it needs to be entirely separate from the City Council.
“The City Council isn’t working in our best interest, we want to have someone who truly believes in the homeowners and understands the needs of Great Park residents,” said Eugenie Zheng, a realtor and Great Park homeowner. “People who work for the city shouldn’t be on the board because it would be a conflict of interest.”
Khan, the only member of the council who can put an item on the agenda without the support of a second as mayor, did not respond to requests for comment on the issue along with Councilmen Mike Carroll and Anthony Kuo.