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Irvine Adds Council to Park Board

The move is intended to ease concerns that those overseeing the Great Park at the closed El Toro base won't be accountable to public.

September 11, 2003|Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writer

Responding to concerns about public accountability in the management of the city's proposed Great Park at the former El Toro Marine base, the Irvine City Council has voted to include all five council members on the park's governing board.

The council voted unanimously late Tuesday to expand the Great Park's board of directors from the originally proposed seven appointees to nine members: four appointees and the elected council members.

The Great Park was conceived by Irvine as an alternative to a proposed commercial airport at the closed military base. Voters countywide rejected the airport plan in a referendum last year, but airport proponents continue to challenge the park plan in court.

Irvine created the nonprofit Orange County Great Park Corp. in June to develop and operate the park. Forming the nonprofit was necessary, city officials said, to protect Irvine's general fund from exposure to park expenses.

But critics, including county supervisors, raised concerns that the private corporation would be exempt from public scrutiny.

Irvine officials said Wednesday that they hoped the vote to expand the board and include elected officials will help put the controversy behind them and allow the city to move ahead with developing the park.

The city is "making the process as transparent as possible," Councilman Chris Mears said. "Nobody is trying to create a process that is hidden from public view."

The City Council also directed city staff to draft new corporate bylaws that would allow more public input in board decisions. The council is scheduled to vote on a final set of bylaws by early October, city officials said.

"It was a huge milestone we reached here, and it makes the park all that much more of a reality," Mayor Larry Agran said.

Supervisor Bill Campbell, whose district includes Irvine, said Wednesday that Irvine's actions address his concerns about public accountability.

"I think they've done a real good job," he said. "I was heartened by what they did."

As part of Tuesday's action, the council named the four appointed directors: Santa Ana Mayor Miguel A. Pulido; Michael Pinto, an environmental activist and founder of the Laguna Canyon Foundation; developer James Ray; and retired Irvine Co. executive Richard Sim.

Irvine must still win approval for its plans to annex the base. The Local Agency Formation Commission has scheduled a hearing on the annexation proposal Nov. 11.

If Irvine's annexation of the base is approved, the Navy, which owns the land, plans to auction off about 3,700 acres to residential and commercial developers next year. The buyers would be required to deed a total of 1,336 acres to Irvine for public use. The park would be funded by as much as $400 million in developer fees. About 1,000 acres have been set aside by the federal government for wildlife habitat.

Still to be settled, however, are legal challenges to environmental reviews of the base and Irvine's redevelopment plan filed by Caltrans and groups that favor a commercial airport on the site.

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