By Jill Cowan, Los Angeles Times
Testimony from an audit of the $200-million effort to transform a retired Orange County military base into one of America’s great municipal parks paints a picture of a runaway project that was eventually crippled by waste, dysfunction and cronyism.
Former park officials said the Great Park project was commandeered by a longtime Irvine councilman, and described the design process under his watch as so disorganized that it was, at one point, likened to a ship adrift at sea.
Councilman Larry Agran, an ardent booster of the park, fostered an environment of cronyism by bringing aboard consultants who served as his chief lieutenants and giving them nearly unchecked power, the transcripts suggest.
Once Larry Agran and his group took control of this thing, there were no budgets.
– Former Irvine Co. Chief Executive Richard Sim
Transcripts were released ahead of a full forensic audit of Great Park spending, and auditors had the power to subpoena witnesses for their work. The audit is examining how Irvine spent more than $200 million on plans for the 1,300-acre park with little developed land to show for it.
Witnesses deposed for the audit said the consultants — one with a long, colorful history in California politics — were allowed to rack up enormous bills as they championed virtually impossible visions.
“Once Larry Agran and his group took control of this thing, there were no budgets,” testified former Irvine Co. Chief Executive Richard Sim, who served on the Great Park board. “It was like the sky was the limit.”
Sim said contracts were not properly put out to bid and, instead, were steered to the councilman’s associates — people whom city staffers derisively referred to as “FOL,” or “Friends of Larry.”