After over a year of little movement, Irvine City Council members could make some major changes at the Orange County Great Park Tuesday night, including changing the park’s name and discussing how the county’s largest civic construction project is funded.
The Great Park was originally billed as the Central Park of the West Coast, a shining beacon of public development that would be a benefit to all residents of Orange County.
But a Voice of OC investigation last year found homeowners were being charged millions of dollars in special Mello-Roos taxes to fund construction of a park without a clear final vision or price, with most of the park land going toward sports fields and private leases.
Those tax dollars were then paid to FivePoint Holdings, the city’s development partner, funding construction for most of the park’s projects and building infrastructure in the surrounding neighborhoods where FivePoint’s homes are set to go.
While the taxes will be significantly reduced after 40 years, homeowners surrounding the park will be paying millions each year to pay for the park’s maintenance permanently.
“Unfortunately, what the public got bears little semblance to the pipedreams they were sold.”Orange County grand jury who looked at the issue in 2014
Ever since the Mello-Roos taxes were pulled into the spotlight last year, Great Park residents have been asking the council repeatedly for an explanation on where their money is going and what say they have in it.
Now, they might finally be getting one.
At the request of city council members Mike Carroll and Tammy Kim, city staff are set to discuss how the taxes work, how much homeowners have already paid in and what’s in store for the future.
The presentation will be the first in depth public discussion on how the special taxes came into being since their inception in 2013.
But the staff report also kills any hope the tax could go away soon, stating there are “no realistic rate or term modifications,” the city can implement until residents have paid off nearly $600 million in bonds, which are currently scheduled to end in 2050.
From there, the city still has nearly a billion dollars it can still implement in bonds, with plans to increase that cap as development of the park continues.
In addition, staff are reviewing options for residents to get involved with the park’s planning, including setting up feedback forms on the city’s website.
However, the staff report makes no mention of implementing a Great Park resident advisory committee despite a majority of the council publicly supporting the idea during their campaigns last year.
Councilman Larry Agran proposed a discussion on the advisory committee, but it never materialized.
The council will also discuss renaming the park after pushing back a discussion on the issue at their last meeting, a decision that could cost as much as $360,000 in the rebranding.
Those changes could be the first major updates at the Great Park in over a year. Currently, the city’s biggest project announced in the last year was that two concession stands would be remodeled to sell hot food, at a cost of $1 million to taxpayers.
The meeting starts at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, and can be viewed here.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.