Irvine leaders ultimately decided to keep their separate public meetings to discuss the Great Park going amid questions on whether or not the meetings are a redundancy that confuses their residents.
The discussion comes as city leaders are moving forward with a billion dollar construction plan to build park attractions like an amphitheater and a lake, with regular meetings that would decide what those features look like.
While there have been questions about the five-member board’s purpose for over a decade, some council members defended its existence and insisted that the board was required to keep the park moving in the right direction.
“It’s not broke, we don’t need to fix it,” said Councilman Larry Agran during Tuesday’s discussion.
The board is entirely composed of city council members and has been for over a decade, leading to questions over why the city council has a separate board to discuss the Great Park when they could just talk about it during city meetings. .
Councilwoman Tammy Kim, who proposed the idea of dissolving the board, said that’s generated confusion among residents who are trying to understand what’s happening at the park.
“The Great Park board has outlived its usefulness, and I believe it’s time that the Great Park board be fully folded into the city council,” Kim said. “The Great Park isn’t a far away, distant land, it’s not a separate island, it’s Irvine.”
Kim also pointed out that the Great Park board can’t technically approve anything on its own, and makes recommendations that are adopted by the city council, who all sit on the Great Park Board.
“I find it hard to understand you have a body that is only a recommendation body, that it cannot exercise any type of approval, and that it consists of the same people that it’s recommending to,” Kim said. “ I am on a board, to recommend something to myself. Is that correct?”
“That’s correct,” said city attorney Jeff Melching.
“I don’t even see how, in what universe that even makes any sense,” Kim said.
Agran insisted that the Great Park board’s separate meetings give people a greater chance to get involved, and that over the decades it’s been a useful tool to shape the park’s development that should remain.
“I don’t want a radical change at this point, we’re on a good path, we ought to take pride in that,” Agran said. “The fact we now have our board meetings separate from our council meetings, and that they’re self-contained, I think that will attract more public attention and participation.”
Many of the board’s meetings, which generally start around 2 p.m. Tuesdays before the council meeting are largely unattended.
There were zero public speakers at the board’s meeting on Tuesday as the council looked at possible plans for a library in the Great Park.
Kim pointed that out in a question to Agran.
“We should’ve had the increased participation already, but we haven’t, because our residents are confused as to what’s being discussed,” Kim said.
Mayor Farrah Khan interjected and wanted to end the discussion.
“We’re just hearing a lot of repeats,” Khan said. “If you could summarize and we could end this discussion that would be great.”
Kim never got an answer as to any benefits for public participation in keeping the meetings separate.
Kim’s proposal would’ve also taken a lot of money out of each council members’ pocket, with plans to cut off the roughly $10,500 stipend they each receive to serve on the Great Park Board – an idea Agran opposed.
“The idea of saving $50,000 a year, are you kidding? A billion dollar enterprise, and we want to save $50,000 a year?” Agran said.
Councilwoman Kathleen Treseder agreed with Kim that the board is sometimes confusing to residents, but sided with Agran on agreeing that it could generate more public participation.
“I can see how if we were wanting to publicize coming to a particular Great park board meeting that would help, the public wouldn’t be confused trying to find the right time,” Treseder said.
Councilman Mike Carroll, who’s currently the chair of the Great Park board, did not speak to the issue.
Ultimately, the council took no vote on the issue, with no other council member seconding Kim’s motion to dissolve the board.
“I don’t want to move to kill it,” Agran said. “ I just don’t want it to happen.”
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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