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Jail Gambit Tarnishes Irvine

March 02, 2003

It's hard to imagine what Irvine planners intended when they proposed annexing the James A. Musick Branch Jail. It's easier to figure out what they accomplished: They irritated county officials who had been cooperating with them on the plans for the old El Toro base and made it clear that the Great Park needs a thorough flea-combing at every step of the way.

City Manager Allison Hart says Irvine viewed the Great Park environmental impact report as an "opportunity" to propose annexing the jail. No kidding. The city would love to have control over the jail so it can do everything possible to block the county plan to sextuple the inmate population at Musick, which sits next door to the former El Toro Marine air base where Irvine wants to put a swanky golf course. The county has an equally valid concern: finding places to house all its inmates. That's why the county has long insisted on keeping jails and other regional operations in its own jurisdiction.

But it's not valid -- or honorable -- for Irvine to tuck the annexation proposal into the Great Park report like a fait accompli and leave it for county officials to discover. Were Irvine officials hoping the wording would slip by the county and thus become fact? Were they hoping to create a bargaining position in which the county has to argue to keep what it already has, and thus is compelled to give in on another point? Or was it a distraction to divert officials' attention from other tricks in the report?

Sorry to sound so suspicious, but Irvine has given the public cause for cynicism on Great Park. First the city backed off on its assertion that developer fees would pay for the park. Then Mayor Larry Agran, after frequently saying the park would be privately funded, wrote more than $100 million for the park into Proposition 51, the ill-fated pork-barrel initiative. Once that failed, Agran returned to his no-taxes mantra. Now Hart concedes that Irvine could have communicated better about its hidden message on Musick.

The county has admitted defeat on its El Toro airport ambitions, but Irvine still needs county cooperation to arrange a smooth turnover of the base. Why make enemies at this point? Irvine officials may have outsmarted themselves on this one. Now critics will pull out their magnifying glasses at any mention of the Great Park.

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