The Great Park in Irvine, California, is a public park with a concentration on sports, agriculture, and the arts. The decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro has been repurposed for non-aviation purposes. The Orange County park takes up 28.8% of the entire land that used to be the air base. Orange County voters authorized the project for $1.1 billion in 2002.
From 1943 to 1999, the Great Park was home to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended shutting MCAS El Toro and relocating its operations to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in 1993. This sparked a protracted political and public relations battle over the base’s future use after it was closed, and the subject played a key role in Orange County politics in the late 1990s. Initial plans called for a commercial airport, residences, and the creation of the Great Park. Orange County voters approved Measure W in 2001, allowing the former air station to be used as a central park/nature preserve and multi-use development. The measure was approved, and the site was designated as the Great Park.
The Great Park’s infrastructure was designed to be nearly comparable to that of Newport Center, with five roads joining into a central loop road that divided the park into blocks. As a reminder of its heritage, the design was later modified to include a huge length of runway and conform more to the configuration of the original base. The restoration of Agua Chinon Creek, which had been channeled underground since the base was created in the 1940s, is the park’s most visible scheme.
The park has turned become a political football in Irvine, with both supporters of the airport and opponents of the park condemning its implementation. In 2012, political opponents of long-term City Councilmember Larry Agran secured a 3-2 majority on the City Council, including newly-elected Mayor Steven Choi and Councilmembers Christina Shea and Jeff Lalloway, and demanded another audit of Great Park expenses. Agran and the other members of the City Council voted in favor of the new audit, with the condition that the cost not exceed $250,000. Councilmembers Christina Shea and Jeff Lalloway were assigned to a newly formed City Council Subcommittee in charge of supervising the audit. Shea and Lalloway recruited an accounting company to undertake the audit through this two-person Subcommittee: Hagen, Streiff, Newton & Oshiro (HSNO). The HSNO accounting firm was hired without the use of a competitive bidding process. A forensic audit was ordered by a Shea-Lalloway City Council subcommittee after allegations of abuse of public funds at the park surfaced. The accounting firm in charge of the audit, Hagen Streiff Newton & Oshiro, Accountants, lost its professional license in January 2020 and was fined $550,000 by the California Board of Accountancy for “failing to comply with professional standards, engaging in numerous acts of negligence, and disseminating false and misleading information” while performing the Great Park audit.
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