There was a time when Irvine’s Great Park was spoken of in grandiose terms as a regional asset.
That’s why its first board of directors included civic leaders from all over Orange County.
The vision has changed over the years with those regional board slots of the Great Park Board of Directors gone altogether.
This Tuesday, Irvine leaders are looking at dissolving the board they created to oversee the Great Park altogether, after years of questions over whether or not the board was redundant.
Potential savings from cutting such special city council stipends for extra work on panels like the Great Park board could save local taxpayers as much as $50,000.
The shift comes as the city broke ground on new construction last month, ending a years long limbo at the park that was promised to be the Central Park of the west when it was unveiled over two decades ago.
Councilwoman Tammy Kim is asking her colleagues to consider dissolving the city’s twenty year old Great Park Board, and instead have all discussions just come before the city council, calling the board “redundant,” and “superfluous.”
When it was founded in 2003, the board included people from across the county, such as former Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido and philanthropist James “Walkie” Ray according to the board’s incorporating documents.
But in 2014, city council members called for a change, pointing out that they were the only ones investing funds in the park and that they should be the only ones making decisions on its operations, a decision that was ultimately approved by the voters in the Great Park Fiscal Transparency and Reform Act that year.
Since then, the board has been made up entirely of city council members, had all its reports prepared by city staff, and met in the city council chambers once a month before a city council meeting that evening.
“The Great Park Board can only be comprised of members of the City Council, and can only engage in actions that are approved by the City Council,” Kim wrote in a memo to her colleagues. “If that’s the case, then why should the Great Park Board exist at all?”
During city council meetings, the Great Park items often go undiscussed, and are quickly approved in one vote on the consent calendar after their debates earlier in the day.
It’s been questioned for years why the board continues to operate separately from city council meetings despite all its members being city council members.
In 2014, a county grand jury conducted a thorough review of the park’s operations over the past decade, and recommended that the city consider dissolving the Orange County Great Park Corporation “as it serves no intrinsic purpose,” after city council members took over decision making in 2014.
“(The corporation) was relegated to an advisory role. It became part of the City government and not a separate entity,” jurors wrote in their report. “The City Councilmembers made all the important decisions on every aspect of the park.”
Shortly after the board was limited to the city council, the city started a partnership with FivePoint Holdings, a developer, to help finance the park’s creation by building homes around the park that would pay a special property tax to pay for the park’s construction.
Very few projects got approved under that partnership outside a variety of sports fields, walking trails, a large ice rink and a hot air balloon.
After a Voice of OC investigative series exposing how Great Park neighborhood homeowners were financing the city’s regional dreams without much say, things started to change with several resident groups arising in recent years.
Last year, city leaders approved a new development plan dubbed the framework plan, and have approved a series of new projects including an amphitheater, botanical gardens, and a lake.
Residents groups have also remained active in planning discussions, and pushed for the creation of a resident advisory group to tell the city how they want their special tax dollars spent.
Those new projects have led to some of the longest public discussions about the park’s operations in years during great park board meetings.
If Kim’s proposal is approved, those would shift to city council meetings instead.
Kim pointed out how city council members receive over $10,000 a year apiece for their work on the board, and said that money could be better invested elsewhere.
She also said the board’s existence often “serves as an outlet for added controversy and confusion.”
“Rather than have the City Council address issues that are rightfully under the purview and jurisdiction of the City,” Kim wrote, “We have seen the Great Park Board be used to further individual political agendas.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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