In matters of public policy, Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan and her City Council majority — Anthony Kuo, Tammy Kim and Mike Carroll — have a pattern of ignoring or shutting out public input, staff recommendations, and established procedures.
During the September 27th Council meeting, that pattern was on full display, when they approved two major contracts — one for the development of a 14,000-seat amphitheater and one for a large water polo and aquatics center — worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
- The multi-million-dollar contracts were released to the public just one week before the Council meeting.
- The contracts were not reviewed by the City’s Planning Commission, Finance Commission, or Transportation Commission — even though the projects vary significantly from the original Ken Smith Master Plan for the Great Park; will involve a large amount of Irvine taxpayer money; and will add significant traffic and transportation infrastructure to the Great Park.
- Members of the public were given just 90 seconds each to make their comments at the Council meeting. As residents spoke, the Mayor and her Council majority were seen texting and even leaving the dais.
After the Council meeting, Planning Commissioner Mary Ann Gaido said that the Council majority had completely ignored 50 years of precedent and procedures that have made Irvine a model for planning. “The Council’s rush to approve the multi-million-dollar projects certainly does not reflect Irvine’s highly touted planning process, which has historically taken the time to study safety, traffic, noise, costs and quality-of-life issues,” Gaido said.
Councilmember Larry Agran — the lone “NO” vote on the Great Park contracts — said he was not surprised at the trampling of Irvine’s traditional inclusive planning process. Agran said: “We’ve seen this so many times from this Mayor and her majority. You’d think by now they would have learned that this sort of thing usually doesn’t end well. These deals involve hundreds of millions of Irvine taxpayer dollars and deserve to be reviewed thoroughly by our City’s established commissions and our City’s residents who will be footing the bill.”
This is just the latest in a pattern of Khan and her Council majority ignoring Irvine’s long history of detailed planning and public input.
The Orange County Power Authority (OCPA) was established by Mayor Khan and Councilmembers Carroll and Kuo in 2019 with little review — even though they were committing millions of Irvine taxpayer dollars. Khan, Carroll, and Kuo originally promised that OCPA would provide greener energy at lower rates. In reality, Irvine residents and businesses are now paying significantly higher monthly rates for electricity. OCPA is currently being audited by the City of Irvine, the County of Orange and the California State Auditor. There is also an ongoing FBI investigation of OCPA.
Earlier this year, Khan and her Council majority voted to ignore the will of Irvine voters by scrapping plans for the voter-approved Veterans Memorial Park in the Great Park. Without any planning or public input, the four Councilmembers want to create a super-sized, unfunded botanical garden in its place.
And, last December, Kuo, Carroll and Kim pushed through a multi-million dollar deal with Casco, a firm that has pledged to provide electric-vehicle charging stations in Great Park parking lots. The three Councilmembers ignored staff recommendations and awarded Casco the contract, stating the City would earn $2 million annually on the deal. Since then, we have learned that the actual revenue will be just 10% or less of what Casco originally promised.
During the September 27th Council meeting, the public was introduced to the new “framework” for the Great Park. The framework is a series of renderings presented by the City staff and approved on a 4-1 vote (with Councilman Agran voting NO).
The new renderings are very different from the Ken Smith Master Plan for the Great Park — which was the result of years of study, public discussion, commission and Council reviews, and detailed planning.
The new framework plan includes no cost estimates, no funding sources, no detailed design plans, and no traffic & environmental studies that are part of a Master Plan process.
Branda Lin, candidate for Mayor against Khan, was taken aback. “We still don’t have a Master Plan for the Great Park!” she said during public comments at the September 27th Council meeting. “This is not responsible planning,” Lin said. “This is not smart planning. At the end of the day, how is it all going to work? We need answers and we need a plan. The rest of the City had a Master Plan, and the rest of our City has worked well. The Great Park needs a Master Plan, and I don’t think we should move forward until we have one,” she concluded to applause and cheers.
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