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Jan-16-2014 15:20printcomments

Voice of OC: Great Park Auditor Details Massive Waste and Abuse

Sparks are flying and yet the real problem with turning MCAS El Toro into a park and housing community... deadly environmental contamination, is still a largely ignored problem. The base is an EPA Superfund site for TCE (trychloroethylene) contamination, and that is just the beginning...

MCAS El Toro
Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

(SALEM) - One of Southern California's biggest plagues that we have been writing about for many years, the so-called "Great Park" fiasco, has come home to roost on the city of Irvine's doorstep. Try to imagine, a Marine Corps base that had the ability to protect California's most populated area from a military attack, was scuttled so that the deep pocketed developers of Irvine could build houses there.

They (the developers and the city of Irvine which annexed most the property) needed a selling point because much of Orange County supported the idea of the base, Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro, becoming an airport. As a response, they created the idea of a "great park" that would feature modern facilities for families, playgrounds, a military cemetery to honor those who served, and more.

Salem-News.com writer Roger Butow and myself, along with other members of our staff who served at El Toro as Marines, Robert O'Dowd and John Uldrich, began outing this monstrosity of a problem in 2008 and we have never stopped. In fact Robert O'Dowd and I wrote a book about it, titled: Betrayal: Toxic Exposure of U.S. Marines, Murder and Government Cover-up.

After all of these years, the allegations of money squandering by former Irvine Mayor Larry Agran (see the Jan 2009 article by Roger Butow: 'Larry Agran, Great Park Gangbanger: Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire?') and Great Park CEO Mike Ellzey (see the Dec 2010 article by Roger Butow: Orange County Great Park CEO Mike Ellzey Unmasked) became starkly real, as an auditor has exposed a long running series of money problems that are quite shocking, even to those of us who have followed this closely. Roger Butow and I have both testified our observations and concerns to the Irvine City Council to no avail, although we did receive positive input from current Mayor Steve Choi and City Councilor Christina Shea.

Excerpt from the Voice of OC article Great Park Auditor Details Massive Waste and Abuse by Adam Elmahrek:

    When a forensic auditor attempted last year to speak with Marsha Burgess, the former Great Park employee who approved invoices for Forde & Mollrich, the park's $100,000 per-month public relations consultant, she flatly refused.

    “Nothing good can come from me talking to you,” Burgess told the auditor.

    Nothing good just about sums up Tuesday night’s public presentation of a forensic audit of the park’s contracts by Hagen, Streiff, Newton & Oshiro Accountants at the Irvine City Council’s regular meeting.

    Chris Money, one of the firm's auditors, provided a sharply worded, two-hour history of Great Park contracts that suggested gross mismanagement of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars over the better part of decade on one of the county's largest public works projects.

    In a PowerPoint presentation that included 100 slides, Money showed how city leaders awarded millions in sole-source contracts with little to no accountability to a roster of consultants, who were closely tied to park CEO Mike Ellzey and Councilman Larry Agran.

    Among the audit's findings:

  • On many occasions the city paid consultants twice for the same work.
  • A design consultant was paid for feasibility studies that were incomplete and even plagiarized.
  • The city awarded a $10-million consulting contract practically "over the phone.”
  • The city paid one consultant a $12,000 change order to alter just one word in a groundwater report.

    By the end of the presentation, Mayor Steven Choi took a moment to compose himself. At one point, he said he felt “betrayed” by city staff and consultants, several of whom retained lawyers and refused to speak with the auditors.

    “Frankly, it’s too overwhelming to me,” Choi said. “It’s just too much.”

    Agran slammed the audit for not including what has been built at the park. He went through his own slideshow, a catalogue of pictures that included bright-green soccer fields, a reflecting pool and children playing with life-sized chess pieces.

    The audit results are only preliminary, because several consultants and Burgess refused to speak with the auditor.

    Money also spoke of an off-the-record "common theme” told to auditors by city employees, who declined to go on the record for the audit. No council member asked what that theme could be.

    Money called on the council to use its powers — possibly subpoenas — to compel the consultants and others who refused to speak to go on the record so the audit can assess for the record “the significance of everything."

    - Read the full Voice of OC article: Great Park Auditor Details Massive Waste and Abuse

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