The Great Money Pit

Other than noting local elections I haven’t really written much on this blog about local politics. Irvine has a favorable business climate, and the city hasn’t had revenue problems. Unfortunately, I think change is on the horizon, and it’s not going to be good.

First, there’s the Great Park. Lennar Corporation paid the Great Park Corporation $200 million. Over half of that money has been spent. To date the result of that spending is:

- Glossy brochures sent to local residents once a quarter;
- Beautiful architectural plan; and
- A nice balloon.

Yes, there have been some concerts at what was the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, but the site looks more or less the same as it did ten years ago.

I won’t get into the theoretical “Chinese Wall” between the Great Park Corporation and the City of Irvine. That’s because as best as I can determine it doesn’t exist. And I won’t comment about the free movies with free popcorn. Perhaps the city and Great Park Corporation can send me some of that free money.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to any local readers. Perhaps you’ve seen the new Irvine “I Shuttle” buses. The shuttle began operation March 31st, and links the Tustin Metrolink station to the Irvine Business Center. The shuttle is free to riders. When the shuttle was first announced rides were going to cost $0.50 to $1 beginning on September 1st but that was never implemented.

I see the shuttle every morning when I head home from the gym, and there are usually a few riders on board. I also see the shuttle when I go out to lunch, and I’ve seen one rider in nine months. I’ve been told that the subsidy per lunchtime rider is $32. The city might as well just order pizza for those riders.

There are many problems here. First, there is already bus service linking the Tustin Metrolink station and the IBC. Sure, the shuttle is more convenient but it’s expensive. I don’t know what the subsidy per rider is during the commute hours (probably on the order of $5 to $10 per rider based on my non-scientific observations), but money doesn’t grow on trees.

The city will see decreasing revenue in the near future. There’s a lot of retail in the city; some of it won’t be surviving the recession. Already, the Mervyn’s store at Barranca and Culver is closing. Others will follow. Funding from Sacramento will go down because of the state budget crisis. Yes, Irvine is better off than many other communities. This is a middle to upper-middle class community and we haven’t been as hard hit as other local areas. Still, funding is going to be tight and those luxuries like the Great Money Pit Park and the I-Shuttle need to break even. If they can’t, it’s time to shut off the money spigot.

At a minimum, the Great Park Corporation should eliminate the glossy brochures. A simple notification through the Irvine World News (which is distributed to every resident of Irvine) and on their website would save money. The I-shuttle should stop lunchtime routes and should consider a complete suspension of service.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, even in Irvine.

2 Responses to “The Great Money Pit”

  1. taxrascal says:

    Does this have anything to the allegations of accounting problems at Lennar. (Take the report with a grain of salt — the author is a former fraudster who claims to have mended his ways, but says he still makes his trades before announcing his recommendations).

  2. Russ says:

    No, this has nothing to do with Lennar. Lennar paid the money to Irvine during the peak of the housing boom. The Great Park Corporation (more or less now a part of the City of Irvine) has been spending the money, not Lennar.

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