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Meetings of O.C. Park Panel Being Investigated

January 27, 2006|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County district attorney is investigating whether the Irvine board planning the proposed Great Park at the former El Toro Marine base violated the state's open meeting law by holding official sessions in Barcelona, Paris and New York City last fall.

The inquiry by the office of Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas was confirmed Thursday by Wally Kreutzen, chief executive of the Orange County Great Park Corp.

The trip by seven board members, including all five members of the Irvine City Council, has been controversial from the start. Five staffers also went along.

The group toured the home offices and projects of three design teams chosen as finalists to build the 1,300-acre park. This week, the board selected landscape architect Ken Smith of New York City.

Board members said a close look at the finalists and their work was essential before selecting a master designer for the $401-million park.

But critics including Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, called the trips "a really expensive junket" that allowed board members to deliberate without public scrutiny.

Park board chairman and Irvine Councilman Larry Agran said Thursday that he was confident no wrongdoing would be found.

On the advice of its attorney, the board took several steps along the way to provide a degree of public access and information. The board posted official agendas for each day on the road, and members of the public were invited to speak, though no one did. Video recordings were made of many sessions and made available on the city's website.

California's open meeting law requires public bodies to conduct their business in public, with some exceptions for personnel matters and real estate negotiations. Meetings must have agendas posted in advance, and legislative bodies cannot take action on matters that haven't been posted on the agenda. Violation of the state's open meeting law is a misdemeanor.

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