The Great Park: Hot Air?

Originally publish August 19, 2010

Thanks to Larry Agran, a few people have gotten very rich from the county’s proposed $1.2 billion, still-not-built park

By R. Scott Moxley

Stand dead-center on the 2-mile runways at mothballed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, like I did recently, and look around. You’ll see the past: long-abandoned, dilapidated structures—massive jet hangars, an aircraft-control tower, barracks and assorted military-support buildings whose origins trace back to the 1941 Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s as if time has forgotten the place Lee Harvey Oswald once called home. Listen for evidence of modern life: Though you’re surrounded in the distance by some of the busiest highways in the world, the soundtrack is the steady whistle of an inexhaustible breeze. Rabbits and squirrels—apparently unaccustomed to sharing these 4,700 acres abandoned by the Pentagon 11 years ago—dart into ubiquitous patches of tall, rust-colored weeds beneath a royal-blue sky made enormous by the flat terrain. It’s impossible not to feel awe.

Like Orange County, this property — North America’s largest lima-bean field before World War II — is a monument to contradictions. It’s ironic that a spot where men trained to kill for half a century is, at least by outward appearances, such a peaceful spot now. It’s even more ironic that its tranquil appearance is an illusion. Even today, this land is steeped in conflict. Today’s combatants don fine suits and chow on $29 plates of spaghetti while directing the moves of platoons of public-relations flacks and lawyers.

One last irony: Like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the public is oblivious to the vicious tug-of-war over this soil. The Irvine property, which could play a dominant, positive role in Southern California’s future, as well as make or break the reputations of a number of politicians and real-estate developers, remains in a puzzling limbo.

You can thank the current inactivity on the manipulations of Irvine’s most-powerful politician: City Councilman Larry Agran, the 1992 Democratic Party presidential candidate who controls the city’s 3-2 council majority and thus the conversion of the Marine base into a public/private partnership called the Great Park. Agran—the county’s most-prominent progressive figure until 2005, when all local news outlets here documented his penchant for secrecy, half-truths and reckless spending—sounds defensive when asked about the continual delays.

“I don’t know where the idea materialized out there that somehow we would have the great metropolitan park developed full-scale within a matter of a few years,” Agran told The Orange County Register in May. “Nobody ever promised that. . . .”

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