Great Park au­dit re­view stalls

As­sem­bly­woman drops re­quest for a state in­ves­ti­ga­tion of re­port on O.C. pro­ject.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Matt Mor­ri­son matt.mor­ri­son@latimes.com

A push to have the state Leg­is­la­ture re­view an au­dit of the fi­nan­cially trou­bled Or­ange County Great Park pro­ject, which the Irvine-com­mis­sioned re­port found was rife with mis­man­age­ment and has cost more than $200 mil­lion, has stalled again.

As­sem­bly­woman Lorena Gon­za­lez (D-San Diego) with­drew her re­quest this week for a re­view be­fore a meet­ing of the Joint Leg­isla­tive Au­dit Com­mit­tee. Ex­actly why Gon­za­lez dropped her sec­ond re­quest re­mains un­clear.

Leg­is­la­tors op­posed to the “au­dit of the au­dit” spec­u­lated that the item did not have enough sup­port to pass. “All I know is she with­drew the item, and I’m grat­i­fied that she has,” said Assem­bly­man Don Wag­ner (RIrvine), who wrote a let­ter to the au­dit com­mit­tee chair­man urg­ing that it deny Gon­za­lez’s re­quest.

The as­sem­bly­woman had in April ini­tially pro­posed an in­ves­ti­ga­tion at the urg­ing of con­struc­tion de­sign firm Gaf­con, a Great Park sub­con­trac­tor head­quar­tered in her dis­trict. The re­quest was not ap­proved , de­spite a 9-to-3 vote in its fa­vor, be­cause it did not have the re­quired bal­ance of at least four yes votes by both state Assem­bly and Se­nate mem­bers of the com­mit­tee.

Great Park, which broke ground last year, was in­tended to re­place the re­tired El Toro Marine base with an enor­mous ex­panse of open space, forested land and me­an­der­ing path­ways on 688 acres. But some city lead­ers have said that too much money has been spent and too lit­tle ac­tual con­struc­tion com­pleted.

In Jan­uary 2013, the Irvine City Coun­cil ap­proved con­duct­ing the au­dit of the Great Park work at an orig­i­nal bud­get of $240,000. A sub­com­mit­tee of Irvine coun­cil mem­bers over­saw it. The fi­nal re­port was pre­sented in March af­ter more than two years and at a cost of more than $1.2 mil­lion.

The au­dit con­cluded that con­struc­tion of the park was be­ing mis­man­aged, not­ing that more than $200 mil­lion had been spent on the pro­ject be­tween 2005 and 2012. Find­ings left the door open for le­gal ac­tion to re­cover money paid to con­trac­tors based on po­ten­tial pro­fes­sional neg­li­gence, false claims or conf licts of in­ter­est.

Gaf­con, New­port Beach public re­la­tions firm Forde & Moll­rich and for­mer Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, who over­saw the Great Park pro­ject for five of the seven years in ques­tion, are cen­tral fig­ures in the re­port.

Gon­za­lez ar­gued in April that the au­dit process may have been drawn out for elec­tion pur­poses and that Gaf­con’s rep­u­ta­tion and busi­ness suf­fered sig­nif­i­cantly as a re­sult. At the same hear­ing, Gaf­con Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Ye­hudi Gaf­fen tes­ti­fied that his com­pany “lost mil­lions” and “did not win one job in 2014 be­cause of this so-called au­dit.”

An of­fi­cial state­ment is­sued by Gaf­con said the au­dit is “rid­dled with false­hoods” and con­cludes: “We are per­plexed as to why the City Coun­cil is spend­ing so much ad­di­tional public money to op­pose a re­view by the non-par­ti­san state au­di­tor if they have noth­ing to hide.”

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