Secret Battles Cost Great Park Millions

By David Whiting

Despite the financial waste, failed oversight and greed detailed in last week’s Great Park audit, there also is clear evidence the public had a champion who quietly turned that culture around.

At least there is comfort in knowing that – sometimes – people who fight for public trust get their due.

I ride the elevator down to the basement archives in the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum – yes, a basement of all places – to find out who should be pilloried for promising voters an impossible Great Park dream, allowing hundreds of acres of land to lay vacant for years and squandering millions of public dollars.

Perhaps like you, I want justice.

Because of the gross mismanagement Mike Ellzey inherited when he arrived in 2008, the former El Toro Marine base in Irvine today has far more acres of weeds and cracked asphalt than the sports fields and bike paths we were originally promised.

Sitting across from Ellzey, newly appointed head of the Nixon library and former Great Park CEO, I ask for names of the bad guys.

But like many who clean up others’ messes, Ellzey shakes his head, looks at me and makes clear he’s not going to name names. Instead, he even reaches out to heal wounds by saying elected leadership such as former Irvine mayor and Great Park helmsman Larry Agran were “well-intentioned.”

The Great Park audit puts it differently.

The audit – which Agran claims needs its own audit – states Agran early on was told by the architect the project would cost $1 billion (an estimate other experts would later put at “multi-billions of dollars”). But the report then states Agran turned around and told the public the cost would be less than half the architect’s estimate.

So let’s start by allowing the 157-page audit to speak for itself.

“Mr. Ellzey coming in with fresh eyes was willing to look realistically at what was feasible,” the audit concludes. “This was not easy given the political environment Mr. Ellzey described in his deposition.

“It appears that Mr. Ellzey ultimately acted with some courage given the threats which were made against him.”

Yes, threats.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…