Great Park audit review stalls
Assemblywoman drops request for a state investigation of report on O.C. project.
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.”