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Council Remains Divided Over Plans for an Aquatics Center at the Great Park

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On April 11th, Irvine City Councilmembers sparred over a controversial plan to build an aquatics center in the Great Park that would also be the headquarters and premier competition site for USA Water Polo.
 
Meeting as the Great Park Board in the afternoon before the regular Council meeting, Councilmembers heard a City staff presentation based on the Council’s vote last month to move the aquatics center forward to Phase 1 of the Great Park development plan. The Council originally agreed to the move at the request of USA Water Polo, to get it built in time for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.
 
Last month’s 3-2 vote had been contentious, as it would require delaying other Great Park plans slated for Phase 1. The Council directed staff to come up with a plan that keeps several projects prioritized for timely completion — including the Veterans Memorial Park, Cultural Terrace, and the Amphitheater.
 
The City’s arrangement with USA Water Polo also came under fire, as it would give the organization first claim on up to 30% of the swim-time at the center, and include permanent office space and special facilities for the group. The organization agreed to contribute $12 million to the estimated $80 million-plus construction costs, but pay no rent or maintenance fees for the 40-year life of the agreement.
 
During the March meeting, Councilmember Larry Agran joined Mayor Farrah Khan and Councilmember Mike Carroll in supporting the USA Water Polo project after being reassured that City staff would bring back a revised Phase 1 plan for the Council’s review and final approval. “We may have to make some hard decisions at that time,” Agran stated during that vote. (Councilmembers Kathleen Treseder and Tammy Kim opposed.)
 
This week, the staff came back with the revised Phase 1 plan. According to that presentation, staff stated that several features — including the signature Great Meadow, two centerpiece lakes, the Circle Farm, and a forestation program — would be pushed back to the final three years in order to accommodate the 2028 deadline for the aquatics center.
 
After seeing the revised plan, Councilmember Agran said that the operating agreement with USA Water Polo “serves their interests, but I don’t see any benefit for the larger Irvine community.” Agran added: “When we say we believe in community first, do we really mean it?”
 
Agran also stated that pushing back some of the Great Park’s signature amenities to rush the aquatics facility is “prioritizing one organization over the entire Irvine community.”
 
Agran made a motion to build an aquatics facility modeled on Irvine’s existing Woollett Aquatics Complex with complete City control, where USA Water Polo would line up with other groups for swim-time and not be provided with its own special facilities at the center.
 
“That was my motion last time!” exclaimed Councilmember Kim, with outrage in her voice, referring to a vaguely worded motion she made last month that failed to pass.
 
Councilmember Agran gently explained that his motion was different because it would also end the agreement with USA Water Polo, and said, “If it is the same motion, then I would ask that you vote for it again, and I’ll acknowledge that you deserve full credit for it.”
 
Kim refused. Instead, she joined Khan and Carroll in a vote to keep the USA Water Polo agreement intact, with Agran and Treseder opposing.

Even though the agreement with USA Water Polo will remain intact, the organization’s attempt to cut in line ahead of other projects failed.

Roger Bloom

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