By AKANKSHA SAH
A recent article in the LA Times was titled “What happened to Orange County’s Great Park?” Indeed, what exactly did happen to the Great Park?
In early 2005, Lennar Corporation, a leading land developer, purchased the land on which the former Marine Corps Air Station stood. According to the Orange Country Great Park Corporation, the deal was made as part of an unprecedented partnership between the City of Irvine, the federal government and Lennar Corp. According to the agreement, Lennar Corp. was to contribute 200 million dollars and transfer over 1,347 acres of the land to the City of Irvine for use in building a park – one that was projected to be both greater in size and have more features than even New York’s Central Park. The plans for the park, according to the Liberal OC, included a 2.5-mile canyon, a 26-acre lake, botanical gardens, a cultural terrace, lawns, performing arts venues, a sports park and a wildlife corridor connecting the Cleveland National Forest to the Laguna Coast Wilderness.
However, with the Great Recession of 2008 and the collapse of the housing market, Lennar Corp.’s plans fell through. To add to the mess, an audit recently revealed that the park’s original public funds were grossly mismanaged; millions of dollars were wasted on unreasonably expensive consultants and planners. For instance, a $12,000 payment was made to one such consultant for changing one word in a report, according to the Voice of OC. To make matters worse, because of negligence and lack of appropriate controls, the city ended up paying consultants twice for the same exact work on several occasions.
Because of the frivolous spending, funds for the park had nearly been depleted by November 2013. Left with no other choice, the current City Council struck a new deal with the developer FivePoint Communities to build a scaled-down version of the park. As reported by the LA Times, now the new park is to be built on a mere 688 acres as opposed to the original 1,347 acres that it was supposed to cover.
In the agreement, FivePoint was given the right to build nearly 10,000 houses around the park. These houses are expected to profit FivePoint with nearly 1 billion dollars, according to the Voice of OC. The new plan seems to benefit FivePoint at the expense of the City of Irvine, as FivePoint comes out with a huge profit, while the Great Park ends up about half as large as planned. Unfortunately, with city funds for the park drained, the plan is likely the only option left. The issue with it is that the entire concept of the park has consequently been compromised. As it stands, about ten years and 200 million dollars since the original plan for the park was created, even the scaled-down version of the park remains far from completed.
In 2005, a dream was pitched to the residents of Irvine – the dream of America’s greatest metropolitan park. What sounded “too good to be true” a decade ago has today been proven to be exactly that: the dream of the Great Park remains a dream. Instead of a beautiful park for nature lovers to escape to with family and friends, the Great Park has now become just another location for houses to be built.
With its renowned school system and picturesque neighborhoods, Irvine has always been a desired place to be in. The demand for housing remains ever present, guaranteeing builders high profits on any projects. While there is such a demand for houses in Irvine, there simply is not enough space in the city for all of the people.
Irvine is now left facing the challenges of over-crowding in schools, streets and communities. Not too long ago, one could drive down any Irvine street, look up and see acres of serene open space framed by Big Bear’s snowcapped mountains. Today, that scenery has been replaced by eight-lane streets lined with artificially placed trees, endless rows of jam-packed houses and miles of backed-up traffic.
Although the failed plan for the Great Park is certainly not the only cause for the urbanization and overpopulation of Irvine, it certainly is a major contributor. If Irvine keeps developing at the rate that it has been, eventually there will be none of its original charm or beauty left, losing the aspects that make it stand out as a city. Hopefully, the latest plan for the park will work out, and Irvine’s developers will finally settle down and do the city no more harm.