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Orange County Perspective

Irvine Finally Gets It Right

September 28, 2003

Irvine officials were quick and effective at quelling two recent controversies over the Great Park but would have been more impressive if they'd done the right things in the first place.

Less than two weeks after the state Department of Transportation filed suit over the plans for the former El Toro Marine base, Irvine settled by acceding to Caltrans' demand for a recount of traffic projections. Caltrans estimates that the development planned at the site, 3,400 homes and millions of square feet of office and retail space, would generate three times as much traffic as Irvine had forecast. That's a big gap in need of careful examination.

Irvine Mayor Larry Agran expressed surprise over the lawsuit when it was filed Sept. 5, saying the city and Caltrans had been working for weeks to resolve their differences. Read another way, state officials were frustrated after weeks of talks by their inability to get the city to look at the possibility that Great Park development could mean half a million car trips a day. Caltrans isn't a lawsuit-happy agency. It shouldn't have had to bring in the courts to get Irvine to do this.

Irvine's City Council similarly bent last week to complaints from various people, including county supervisors, about the governing body for the proposed park, envisioned as a regional recreation zone. The council originally set up a private, nonprofit organization to manage the park, one that had little public accountability.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 26, 2003 Orange County Edition California Part B Page 22 Editorial Pages Desk 2 inches; 67 words Type of Material: Correction
A Sept. 28 editorial incorrectly said that Caltrans contended that development of the former El Toro Marine base would generate three times as much traffic as Irvine planners had predicted. Caltrans agreed with Irvine about the number of trips to be generated by the base development, but said the city should have included in its traffic estimate the number of trips generated by other proposed developments nearby.

To its credit, the council acted swiftly and decisively to remedy the situation. It added itself to the board so that decision-making would be subject to public meeting laws. It approved a new set of bylaws that require the nonprofit group to open its financial and other records to the public, and to abide by the state's conflict-of-interest laws for public agencies.

Irvine said it wanted the nonprofit in order to protect the city's general fund from liability for park expenses. There are other valid reasons to have a separate organization run Great Park. At Irvine parks, city residents and groups are given first dibs -- and lower rental rates for private use -- than outside groups. That's fair; they also pay for the parks.

But a countywide vote approved Measure W, to turn the former air base into a giant park for everyone's equal use. An independent group with a regional agenda will make that happen. It just has to be answerable to the public it will serve.

That's something Irvine officials should have known and incorporated from the start. With various factions still looking for ways to bring back commercial airport plans at El Toro, city officials are anxious to get their park-and-development proposal through the system. They still have a responsibility to do that with careful, objective studies and public transparency.

And every step of the way, there will be pro-airport groups and other understandably suspicious watchdogs to make sure that happens.

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