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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

'Great' Reason to Pass on 51

October 13, 2002

In case California voters need another reason to reject Proposition 51, Irvine Mayor Larry Agran is providing one. Two, actually.

After months of Agranspeak about a Great Park that would replace the former El Toro air base without using public funds, it turns out that the mayor has been pushing for more than $100 million in state money. The park funding is written into the Traffic Congestion Relief and Safe School Buses Act on the November ballot, a sausage initiative packed with projects for special interests.

Funny how every so often, a tidbit emerges that shows the amazing Great Park isn't so great or amazing. First, Irvine officials described a splendid park and cultural center that would spring up solely via developer funds. Then came the revelation that developer money would pay only for basic landscaping; gardens, museums and recreation centers would be considered "jewelry" in need of additional funding. It soon became clear that despite early assertions, there were big concerns about how much toxic cleanup the Navy was committing to at the old base.

Newport Beach residents, the biggest supporters of an airport at El Toro, must be sniggering at the latest disclosure--when they aren't downright fuming. Their slogan calling the Great Park push the "Great Tax" ends up pretty close to the mark after all.

Agran claims that Great Park supporters never said the park could spring into existence without public money. This simply is untrue. To quote the mayor in July, the Great Park "will be developed and maintained in perpetuity with private dollars."

As if the Great Park millions weren't enough, Proposition 51 would throw an additional $50 million Irvine's way for a remote air terminal--a sort of airport without the icky noise from airplanes that Irvine didn't want at El Toro. Travelers would check their luggage and catch shuttle buses to LAX and other airports where other people have to cope with the icky noise.

Agran's pet priorities have as little business at the forefront of public spending as other projects that would be funded through Proposition 51, such as the special railroad line that goes straight to a gambling casino. The Times already has recommended that voters reject the ill-conceived proposition, which would pull $1 billion a year out of the general fund--money that's sorely needed for basic public services.

Agran, you see, sits on the board of the group sponsoring Proposition 51. And he is making a grab for state taxpayers' money with little care about the trauma centers that are in danger of closing and other services that are being slashed because of budget cuts. Despite pain caused by the state's fiscal crisis, he shows no twinges of conscience. "Orange County puts in a lot more than we get back from the state general fund," he says. "... I'm not going to apologize to anyone for aggressively pursuing projects that serve the county's public interest."

When it comes to the county's public interest, Agran and the voters should remember the $39-million hit to the Social Services Agency in June forced by state cutbacks. The county agency trimmed welfare-to-work programs, day care, job retraining and transportation for low-income residents. These people, who cannot afford plane trips, would have no use for a jet-free air terminal.

Agran and company should stick to the promises they made in July about the tax-free Great Park and finance it without the state's general fund.

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